It's A Bug's Life Fighting E. Coli In Cattle

One of the deadliest bugs found in food or drinking water is a bacterium called E. coli 0157:H7. Most strains of E. coli are harmless. But the 0157 type sickens 60,000 Americans a year. Since outbreaks are often caused by contaminated cattle or manure, the problem could be reduced by eliminating the microbe from the animals.

One clever approach: enlisting other bacteria in the fight against their deadly relative. Michael P. Doyle of the University of Georgia began by isolating "friendly" E. coli bugs from the stomachs of cattle. Some of them, he found, secrete substances capable of killing the 0157 strain. So he put them to the test. He gave 20 steers big doses of 0157. Then he sprayed good bugs on the feed given to half of the steers.

The results were impressive. In the animals which got both strains, the good bugs quickly outcompeted the bad ones. Within 30 days, 0157 had vanished from the manure of all 10 steers and from the guts of 9 of the 10 animals. Says Doyle: "This is the most promising practical approach" to tackling the E. coli 0157 problem in animals. The university has patented the scheme, and Alpharma Inc. in Fort Lee, N.J., is commercializing the bugs.

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