Survival of a Shiga toxin-encoding bacteriophage in a compost model

Gro Johannessen, Chloe James, Heather Allison, Darren Smith, Jon Saunders, Alan McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Bacteriophages that carry the Shiga toxin gene (stx) represent an additional hazard in cattle manure-based fertilizers in that their survival could lead to toxigenic conversion of Escherichia coli and other bacteria post-composting. A Stx-phage in which the Shiga toxin (stx2) gene was inactivated by insertion of a chloramphenicol resistance gene was used in combination with a rifampicin-resistant E. coli host where RecA is constitutively activated so that all infectious phage particles could be enumerated by plaque assay. PCR-based confirmation methods and the additional application of a host enrichment protocol ensured that very low numbers of surviving bacteriophage could be detected and unequivocally identified. Stx-bacteriophage numbers declined rapidly over the first 48 h and none could be detected after 3 days. The host enrichment method was applied after 6 days and no bacteriophages were recovered. While addition of fresh E. coli cells at intervals after the compost temperature had reduced below 40 °C demonstrated that E. coli growth could be supported in the compost, Stx-phages or their lysogens were never detected. Here, we demonstrate that composting animal manure for 40 days during which a temperature of >60 °C is maintained for at least 5 days is effective at removing both E. coli and a model infectious Stx-encoding bacteriophage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-375
JournalFEMS Microbiology Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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