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There is growing concern about the spreading of human microorganisms in relatively untouched ecosystems such as the Antarctic region. For this reason, three pinniped species (Leptonychotes weddellii, Mirounga leonina and Arctocephalus gazella) from the west coast of the Antartic Peninsula were analysed for the presence of Escherichia spp. with the recovery of 158 E. coli and three E. albertii isolates. From those, 23 harboured different eae variants (α1, β1, β2, ε1, θ1, κ, ο), including a bfpA-positive isolate (O49:H10-A-ST206, eae-k) classified as typical enteropathogenic E. coli. Noteworthy, 62 of the 158 E. coli isolates (39.2%) exhibited the ExPEC status and 27 (17.1%) belonged to sequence types (ST) frequently occurring among urinary/bacteremia ExPEC clones: ST12, ST73, ST95, ST131 and ST141. We found similarities >85% within the PFGE-macrorrestriction profiles of pinniped and human clinic O2:H6-B2-ST141 and O16:H5/O25b:H4-B2-ST131 isolates. The in silico analysis of ST131 Cplx genomes from the three pinnipeds (five O25:H4-ST131/PST43-fimH22-virotype D; one O16:H5-ST131/PST506-fimH41; one O25:H4-ST6252/PST9-fimH22-virotype D1) identified IncF and IncI1 plasmids and revealed high core-genome similarities between pinniped and human isolates (H22 and H41 subclones). This is the first study to demonstrate the worrisome presence of human-associated E. coli clonal groups, including ST131, in Antarctic pinnipeds.

Original publication




Journal article


Scientific reports

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Laboratorio de Referencia de Escherichia coli (LREC), Departamento de Microbioloxía e Parasitoloxía, Facultade de Veterinaria, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (USC), Lugo, Spain.


Animals, Humans, Escherichia coli, Escherichia coli Infections, DNA, Bacterial, Bacterial Typing Techniques, Ecosystem, Phylogeny, Antarctic Regions, Molecular Epidemiology, Molecular Typing, Caniformia