Aims: To investigate interactions between rumen protozoa and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and to ascertain whether it is likely that rumen protozoa act as ruminant hosts for STEC.
Methods and Results: The presence of stx genes in different microbial fractions recovered from cattle and sheep rumen contents and faeces was examined using PCR. In animals shedding faecal STEC, stx genes were not detected in the rumen bacterial or rumen protozoal fractions. Direct interactions between ruminal protozoa and STEC were investigated by in vitro co-incubation. Rumen protozoa did not appear to ingest STEC, a STEC lysogen or non-STEC E. coli populations when co-incubated.
Conclusions: The ruminal environment is unlikely to be a preferred habitat for STEC. Bacterial grazing by rumen protozoa appears to have little, if any, effect on STEC populations.
Significance and Impact of the Study: This study indicates that ruminal protozoa are unlikely to be a major factor in the survival of STEC in ruminants. They appear as neither a host that protects STEC from the ruminal environment nor a predator that might reduce STEC numbers.