NSF International Scientists Announce Discovery of New Bacterium, Same Family as E. coli and Klebsiella Pneumonia

NSF Applied Research Center scientists discovered the new bacterium as part of a study on microbial hot spots in residential homes.

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Klebsiella michiganensis (K. michiganensis).

Photo of magnified Klebsiella michiganensis provided by Accugenix.

"Finding this bacterium in a toothbrush holder is particularly concerning due to the possibility of fecal matter contamination on products used for oral care," said Robert Donofrio, M.S., Ph.D., lead author of the study.

Ann Arbor, MI (PRWEB) November 13, 2013

Scientists at NSF International’s Applied Research Center announced today that they have discovered a new bacterium, Klebsiella michiganensis (K. michiganensis). NSF International is a global public health and safety organization headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Researchers from the NSF Applied Research Center, a division of NSF that focuses exclusively on research and development, found that the new coliform bacterium is part of the same family as E. coli, a species typically found in human intestines and fecal matter. A number of bacteria of the genus Klebsiella are pathogenic and drug resistant, including Klebsiella pneumonia, which can cause pneumonia and respiratory tract and urinary tract infections.

K. michiganensis has a capsule structure with a slimy surface that helps it attach to mucus membranes and evade immune system responses, which may lead to infection because the bacterium is difficult to break down. Sticky bacteria like K. michiganensis can attract other bacteria to join together in biofilm communities which are a common cause of persistent infections. These biofilms can form on surfaces such as human and animal tissues, metal and plastic and are more resistant to disinfection and removal than single bacteria. This helps explain how the NSF Applied Research Center’s scientists discovered the new bacterium as part of a study on microbial hot spots in residential homes for the NSF 2011 Household Germ Study. This particular organism was isolated from a toothbrush holder in a bathroom.

“Finding this bacterium in a toothbrush holder is particularly concerning due to the possibility of fecal matter contamination on products used for oral care. Further testing on K. michiganensis confirmed that the novel bacterium is resistant to three specific antibiotic drugs: cefazolin, sulfisoxazole and ampicillin,” said Robert Donofrio, M.S., Ph.D., lead author of the study and Director of NSF International’s Applied Research Center, which conducts original research in microbiology, toxicology and chemistry for universities, regulatory bodies and industry to advance their scientific studies and projects.

Researchers confirmed that no one in the household that swabbed the toothbrush holder had recently been traveling or was sick, thus ruling out that the germ originated outside the U.S. or in a hospital setting. The three specific antibiotic drugs K. michiganensis is resistant to are commonly used to treat and prevent inflections:

  • Cefazolin is used to treat lung, skin, bone, joint, stomach, blood, heart valve and urinary tract infections, and is also used before and during surgeries to help prevent infection;
  • Sulfisoxazole is used to treat middle ear, urinary tract, eye and lung infections, as well as chlamydia, corneal ulcers and respiratory tract fistula; and
  • Ampicillin is used to treat pneumonia, bronchitis, bacterial meningitis, septicemia and endocarditis, as well as ear, lung, skin, heart valve, gastrointestinal and urinary tract infections.

K. michiganensis was first announced in the journal Current Microbiology, volume 66, published online Oct. 6, 2012. The initial report cites a number of factors contributing to the high bacteria count on toothbrush holders, including infrequent cleaning and close proximity to flushing toilets.

“The discovery of K. michiganensis furthers NSF’s global scientific leadership and technical expertise and is an important reminder of the unknown potential pathogens lurking in microbial hot spots in our homes and why proper cleaning is essential,” said Dr. Donofrio.

NSF scientists sought assistance from Accugenix, Inc., who placed the bacterium in the genus Klebsiella using its proprietary gene sequencing methods and database. Accugenix, a leading provider of contract microbial identification services, specializes in bacterial and fungal identification and strain typing of environmental isolates.

“The NSF Applied Research Center team of scientists, technical experts and public health professionals as well as Accugenix all played a role in discovering Klebsiella michiganensis. Our goal is to educate the public about this new bacterium and provide solutions to further protect public health,” Dr. Donofrio added.

NSF scientists also are working with industry and academia to develop and test new disinfection methods for household and commercial application, including ozone, nano-antimicrobials and ultraviolet light treatments. These methods may help reduce or eradicate pathogens from hard surfaces (such as toothbrush holders) and from foods that can hold elevated levels of microbes, such as lettuce and strawberries.

NSF has conducted other public health studies with researchers from Harvard University and the University of Michigan regarding bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalate testing as well as with a major faucet manufacturer seeking to validate an ozone treatment technology.

Additional information on NSF International can be found at http://www.nsf.org. For more information on NSF’s Applied Research Center, visit NSF’s Applied Research Center Web page.

Editor’s note: To conduct an interview with an NSF International representative or ARC researcher, please contact Greta Houlahan at media(at)nsf(dot)org or +1 734-913-5723.

About NSF International: Founded in 1944, NSF International (nsf.org) is a global independent public health and safety organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the food, water and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment (nsf.org). NSF International has been collaborating with the World Health Organization since 1997 in water quality and safety, food safety and indoor environments.

NSF laboratories provide a wide range of testing, certification and technical services as well as human health risk assessments across all major industries. We operate more than 165,000 square feet of ISO 17025-certified, state-of-the-art labs, including extensive instrumentation and technologies, in North and South America, Europe and Asia.

NSF International’s Applied Research Center provides original research and custom R&D services for the water, food, pharma, biotech, consumer products and sustainability industries, establishing strategic partnerships with academia, industry and regulatory bodies for research and development projects geared to furthering public health. The NSF Applied Research Center’s team of scientists, technical experts and public health professionals performs confidential research and development analyses in chemistry, microbiology and toxicology and test and validate manufacturer and environmental claims to efficiently and economically improve product marketability.


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