Like a troubled celebrity whose splayed misgivings reel us into a state of unending discomfort, when real problems supersede glamour, Echerichia coli (Bad-Rap Eddy) is all too familiar. But like the celebrity whose good roles get forgotten amid bad publicity, the good that E. coli does is lost amid the national scares of his misdeeds.
Discovered in 1885 by Theodor Escherich, this gram-negative, rod-shaped bacterium is primarily found in the intestines of warm-blooded organisms. E. coli is incredibly resilient: It’s able to derive energy through aerobic respiration or, in cases of unfavorable, oxygen-deprived environments, can create its own energy through fermentation (producing lactate, ethanol, acetate, and carbon dioxide). For this reason, strains of E. coli are used in industrial microbiology to aid in the development of vaccines, bioremediation, and engineering of proteins like insulin.
In humans, E. coli are part of normal gut flora. Eddy colonizes the gastrointestinal tract within 40 hours of birth through food, water or interaction. Upon inception, the bacteria adhere to the mucus of the lower intestinal wall. Within the intestine, E. coli works to prevent pathogenic bacteria and produces vitamin K — the synthesis of which promotes bone density and blood clotting.
While Eddy strains are typically harmless, some have become the focus of media horror stories. These strains of E. coli have become so adaptable that they prove to be resistant to antimicrobial agents, pathogenic themselves or even deadly.
By and large, the most common Eddy-caused affliction is a severe case of food poisoning.