A sensitive and versatile multiplex PCR system for the rapid detection of Enterotoxigenic (ETEC), Enterohaemorrhagic (EHEC) and Enteropathogenic (EPEC) strains of Escherichia coli

R. Y. C. KONG, C. L. SO, W. F. LAW, Shiu Sun Rudolf WU

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38 Citations (Scopus)


Although Escherichia coli is widely distributed in the marine environment, only a small percentage are pathogenic to humans. Nonetheless, the widespread occurrence of waterborne infections of E. coli origin in humans has become one of the major health problems worldwide. To date, several types of enterovirulent E. coli have been recognized as the aetiologic agents of various gastrointestinal infections in humans. The most commonly encountered are those belonging to the enterotoxigenic (ETEC), enteroinvasive (EIEC), enterohaemorrhagic (EHEC) and enteropathogenic (EPEC) subtypes. In order to better determine the health risks that are associated with exposure to some of these specific subtypes, we have developed a very sensitive multiplex PCR system for the rapid detection and typing of ETEC, EHEC and possibly EPEC strains of E. coli in the aquatic environment. The target genes chosen for this investigation included: the PHO-A housekeeping gene (present in all E. coli); the LT1, LT2 and ST1 genes of ETEC; the VT1 and VT2 verotoxin, and EAE virulence genes of EHEC and EPEC, respectively. Six pairs of oligonucleotide primers were designed to simultaneously amplify internal fragments of these genes by multiplex PCR to generate PCR products that could be analysed and confirmed with relative ease by gel electrophoresis and HincII enzyme digestion. The results showed that the six sets of PCR primers were highly specific for their target genes and produced specific amplimers of the expected size from several control strains of E. coli - ATCC 35401 (LT1+/ST1+); SA53 (LT2+/VT2+); and O157 (VT1+/VT2+/EAE+). The detection sensitivity of the multiplex PCR system for the six target genes in an E. coli cell mixture was optimized and enhanced by preincubating serially diluted cells in Luria-Bertani broth for 6 h prior to PCR analysis. The results obtained indicated a detection sensitivity of 10°CFU (of each strain) per 100 μl reaction. Multiplex PCR analysis of seawater samples collected from four sewage-polluted sites in Hong Kong indicated the presence in all four samples of E. coli bacteria that were positive for LT1, ST1, VT1 and EAE virulence genes. Overall, the data indicated that the multiplex PCR system described in this study is a potentially very useful and powerful method for routine monitoring and risk assessment of water quality. Copyright © 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1207-1215
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1999


enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli
Escherichia coli
gastrointestinal agents
enteroinvasive Escherichia coli
Strain control
Health risks
DNA primers
Medical problems
aquatic environment


Kong, R. Y. C., So, C. L., Law, W. F., & Wu, R. S. S. (1999). A sensitive and versatile multiplex PCR system for the rapid detection of Enterotoxigenic (ETEC), Enterohaemorrhagic (EHEC) and Enteropathogenic (EPEC) strains of Escherichia coli. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 38(12), 1207-1215. doi: 10.1016/S0025-326X(99)00164-2


  • Escherichia coli
  • Multiplex PCR
  • Virulence gene
  • Enterotoxigenic
  • Enterohaemorrhagic
  • Enteropathogenic