During bloom events, Escherichia coli cell counts increase to between 10,000 and 100,000 cfu/100 ml of water. The strains responsible for bloom events belong to E. coli phylogenetic groups A and B1, and all have acquired a capsule from Klebsiella. A pan‐genome comparison of phylogroup A E. coli revealed that the ferric citrate uptake system (fecIRABCDE) was overrepresented in phylogroup A bloom strains compared with non‐bloom E. coli. A series of experiments were carried out to investigate if the capsule together with ferric citrate uptake system could confer a growth rate advantage on E. coli. Capsulated strains had a growth rate advantage regardless of the media composition and the presence/absence of the fec operon, and they had a shorter lag phase compared with capsule‐negative strains. The results suggest that the Klebsiella capsule may facilitate nutrient uptake or utilization by a strain. This, together with the protective roles played by the capsule and the shorter lag phase of capsule‐positive strains, may explain why it is only capsule‐positive strains that produce elevated counts in response to nutrient influx.
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