Escherichia coli bacteria have fallen into ill repute these days thanks to a particularly nasty strain, O157:H7, that in the last few years has killed several children who ate infected undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk or juice and sickened thousands of more people in the United States. Most E. coli strains, however, carry on unnoticed in our guts, with a few even helping us stay healthy by making vitamins K and B-complex.
To get better acquainted with the many faces of E. coli, pay a visit to the E. coli Index. There, microbiologist Gavin H. Thomas of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, U.K., has posted a few primers on the bug--including an essay entitled "What the heck is E. coli?"--and a teeming colony of resources for scientists, including links to E. coli databanks, updates on proteins characterized since the E. coli genome was sequenced in 1997, abstracts from conferences, and protocols for various lab techniques.
A Who's Who of E. coli microbiology gives a rundown on which group is up to what research. No other bacterium has been as closely studied as this one; Thomas says E. coli stands the best chance among bacteria of having its biology completely characterized.