The Story Behind The Killer Spinach

Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:

Screenhunter_3_12Don’t eat your spinach.

That’s the word coming today from the FDA: they want everyone to avoid bagged spinach until they can get to the bottom of a nasty outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7, a virulent strain that infects an estimated 70,000 people in the United States and kills about 60. A number of people have gotten sick in the new outbreak, apparently from eating contaminated spinach, and there’s been a report of one death in Wisconsin.

There’s a fascinating–albeit gruesome–backstory to this outbreak, which I’ve been researching for my next book, a portrait of Escherichia coli. Escherichia coli is regular inhabitant of the human gut (not to mention the guts of mammals and birds). You carry about a trillion harmless E. coli. E. coli has also become the model par excellence for understanding the nuts and bolts of life. Lots of Nobel Prizes were awarded for research on these fascinating bugs.

Over the twentieth century, scientists began to discover that some strains of Escherichia coli are not so nice. A group of strains called Shigella cause diarrhea, for example, killing over a million people a year. And new virulent strains keep turning up.

More here.