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Theodor Escherich and the Discovery of E. coli

written by: Balachandar Radhakrishnan•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 6/11/2009

Theodor Escherich discovered a common gut bacteria that lives in our intestines and is sometimes the cause of food poisoning. His reward? The praise of the scientific establishment, and the bug was named in his honour.

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    E.coli Discovery

    Theodor Escherich was born on 29 November 1857 in Ansbach, Mittelfranken, Germany. This German-Austrian pediatrician's claim to fame was the discovery of the Escherichia coli bacterium. E.coli, as it is more commonly known, was named after Dr. Escherich.

    The pediatrician was driven by a belief that many of the ailments suffered by children could be solved by studying bacteriology. He discovered E.coli in 1885 whilst on the hunt of the cause of fatal intestinal diseases in children. He studied infant feces for the causative organism and amongst his inventory of microbes was a quick-growing rod-shaped bacterium he called Bacillus communis coli. It was named E.coli after his death.

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    Doctorate in Medicine

    Esherich completed the requirements for a doctorate in medicine in 1881. He became a Professor of Pediatrics at the Karl-Franz University of Graz in 1890. In 1902, he accepted a position as a Professor of Pediatrics at St. Anna Children's Hospital in Vienna. He is also known for establishing the Infant Defence Society and a well-known campaign in favor of breastfeeding. Theodor Esherich died in Vienna on February 15, 1911.

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    What is E. coli Bacteria?

    E. coli is a Gram negative common bacterium that can infect foods like beef and vegetables. It is also normally present in a healthy person's intestines, and can play a part in the digestive process. For the most part it is completely harmless.

    The problem with E. coli is that some strains produce toxins that results in food poisoning. They can be found lurking on unwashed vegetables or in some meats.

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    E. coli Symptoms

    The symptoms of an E. coli infection include:

    • Abdominal pain
    • Cramping
    • Diarrhea (may be bloody)
    • Vomiting

    Cattle can become infected with E. coli if manure is used to fertilize the fields where the cattle's feed is grown. Another way that beef cows can become infected with E. coli is when water that has been contaminated with the bacteria has been used to water crops that end up being used to feed cattle.