The impact of Host restriction of Escherichia coli on Transmission dynamics and spread of antimicrobial Resistance (HECTOR)



Bacteria are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, threatening treatment of bacterial infections. Antibiotic resistance (ABR) is encoded in the DNA of the bacteria. ABR is spreading rapidly in human and animal populations because resistant bacteria are transmitted or because bacteria can transfer DNA encoding ABR to other bacteria which then also become resistant.

Completed project

Escherichia coli (E. coli) resistant to specific antibiotics are considered a high priority risk. Transfer of such E. coli between animals, such as livestock, and humans may contribute to the spread of ABR.

The HECTOR project set out to understand if certain E. coli are adapted to certain host species (human or animal) and how this adaptation is encoded by the DNA. Through genome comparison of 1198 E. coli strains, we found which E. coli strains are associated with human host, and which parts of their DNA aid in this adaptation.

We discovered that the DNA encodes metabolic activities allowing E. coli to potentially survive better in the human gut.
In addition, we studied survival and ABR transfer of E. coli adapted to different host species, in live pigs and calves, and in laboratory experiments imitating the chicken gut. We identified E. coli strains which are better able to survive in these models than other strains. However, our findings highlight the complexity of host adaptation, as we could not identify E. coli types surviving and growing well in either model. Furthermore, we observed that transfer of DNA encoding ABR is rare in such experimental conditions.

The research of HECTOR has advanced our understanding of why some bacteria are able to spread between animal and human populations, thus contributing to the spread of ABR, and why others cannot. This can be helpful for risk assessment.

Project partners

  • Constance Schultsz, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands (Coordinator)
  • Christian Menge, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Germany
  • Torsten Semmler, Robert Koch Institute, Germany
  • Roberto Marcello La Regione, University of Surrey, United Kingdom
  • Lucas Domínguez Rodríguez, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain
  • Stefan Schwarz, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
  • Ngo Thi Hoa, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Project resources



Training on antibiotic usage and resistance, Go Cong Tay District, Tien Giang, Vietnam.