Spatial heterogeneity of Escherichia coli isolated from avian cellulitis lesions in broilers

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Singer RS, Jeffrey JS, Carpenter TE, Cooke CL, Chin RP, Hirsh DC
Avian Diseases 43:756-762

Avian cellulitis in broiler chickens is characterized by subcutaneous lesions that result in economic losses because of the partial or complete condemnation of the carcasses at processing. Escherichia coli is the primary causative agent of this condition. Previous research with a biotyping system found that the E. coli of cellulitis origin were unique to each ranch, suggesting that these E. coli were endemic within the ranch environment. The objective of our study was to analyze the genetic variability of E. coli isolates associated with cellulitis. We analyzed the genetic relatedness of the isolates in relation to the houses, ranches, and complexes in which the broilers were grown. This analysis enabled us to assess the spatial heterogeneity, or genetic diversity on a spatial scale, of the isolates. Forty-nine broilers with cellulitis lesions were necropsied. These broilers came from six houses on four ranches on three complexes that had been placed with chicks from the same hatchery within a 2-wk period. Isolates of E. coli from the lesions were DNA fingerprinted by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. Relatedness among isolates was determined with the Dice coefficient and an unweighted pair group method with average linkages cluster analysis. The complexes possessed isolates with a variety of DNA fingerprints, yet each complex appeared to have isolates with a unique set of DNA fingerprints. Isolates from the same complex tended to form clusters with similarity coefficients greater than 90%. Isolates from different complexes were genetically distinct. This heterogeneity at the level of the complex suggests that isolates were not disseminated from a source common to the complexes. The spatial heterogeneity of the E. coli isolates in this study implies an endemic population of cellulitis-associated E. coli exists in the broiler house environment.

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