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Escherichia coli is a single species consisting of many biotypes, some of which are commensal colonizers of mammals and others that cause disease. Humans are colonized on average with five commensal biotypes, and it is widely thought that the commensals serve as a barrier to infection by pathogens. Previous studies showed that a combination of three pre-colonized commensal E. coli strains prevents colonization of E. coli O157:H7 in a mouse model (Leatham, et al., 2010, Infect Immun 77: 2876–7886). The commensal biotypes included E. coli HS, which is known to successfully colonize humans at high doses with no adverse effects, and E. coli Nissle 1917, a human commensal strain that is used in Europe as a preventative of traveler's diarrhea. We hypothesized that commensal biotypes could exert colonization resistance by consuming nutrients needed by E. coli O157:H7 to colonize, thus preventing this first step in infection. Here we report that to colonize streptomycin-treated mice E. coli HS consumes six of the twelve sugars tested and E. coli Nissle 1917 uses a complementary yet divergent set of seven sugars to colonize, thus establishing a nutritional basis for the ability of E. coli HS and Nissle 1917 to occupy distinct niches in the mouse intestine. Together these two commensals use the five sugars previously determined to be most important for colonization of E. coli EDL933, an O157:H7 strain. As predicted, the two commensals prevented E. coli EDL933 colonization. The results support a model in which invading pathogenic E. coli must compete with the gut microbiota to obtain the nutrients needed to colonize and establish infection; accordingly, the outcome of the challenge is determined by the aggregate capacity of the native microbiota to consume the nutrients required by the pathogen.

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