Fatal Food

How deadly E. coli bacteria cause disease in humans and how we can protect ourselves from infection.

The massive outbreak of Shiga toxigenic E. coli infection in Germany earlier this year highlighted the scale of human and economic damage that can occur when these bacteria enter the food chain. E. coli usually reside in the intestines of livestock, where they appear to cause little harm. However, the game changes when humans become infected, usually by consumption of foods contaminated with animal faeces. Once ingested the bacteria multiply in the human gut, releasing potent toxins that damage organs and tissues, causing life-threatening disease. Cases occur regularly in South Australia with Australia’s largest outbreak of E. coli disease (the “Garibaldi Outbreak”) occurring in Adelaide in 1995.

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Researchers at the University of Adelaide have been attacking this disease from multiple perspectives, achieving major advances in molecular diagnosis of infection, as well as characterisation of the bacterial toxins responsible for disease symptoms. This knowledge has also enabled development of novel strategies for treatment and prevention of the life-threatening complications of E. coli disease.  Professor James Paton will provide an overview of their work on this potentially fatal disease and how to prevent it.

Professor James Paton holds a prestigious NHMRC Australia Fellowship and is the Director of the Research Centre for Infectious Diseases in the School of Molecular and Biomedical Science at the University of Adelaide. His research career has been focused on pathogenesis and prevention of bacterial infectious diseases, and he has published over 260 scientific papers in international journals, including landmark papers in Nature and Nature Medicine.

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