Cronobacter sakazakii is a gram-negative opportunistic pathogen known to survive in dry environments and food matrices, such as infant formula. This foodborne bacterium can cause fatal human infections of the blood, central nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract; it is also problematic in wounds and urinary tract infections. Preterm infants and immunocompromised individuals are in higher risk categories related to necrotizing enterocolitis, neonatal sepsis, and meningitis due to this organism. Therefore, there is a need for increased understanding of how this bacterium is able to persist in thermally treated low-moisture products that do not support growth. The objective of this research is to identify genes and mechanisms in C. sakazakii that contribute to its resistance to desiccation and survival in low-moisture food matrices, including powdered infant formula. C. sakazakii sequence type 4 (ST4) is of particular interest as it is often the cause of neonatal infections originating from contaminated feedings of powder infant formula. The method chosen to explore these genetic patterns is massively parallel transposon insertion sequencing (Tn-seq). The E. coli strain MFDpir was used to facilitate transposon insertional mutagenesis to create a library of mutated C. sakazakii. Three different C. sakazakii ST4 isolates of different origins (clinical, environmental, and infant formula-derived) were selected for this study. Once transposon mutagenesis occurred with the aid of E. coli MFDpir, the three mutant libraries were subjected to desiccation stress in a closed system equilibrated to 11.3% relative humidity. The surviving mutant genomes were analyzed with Tn-seq. The sequencing data revealed that, while transposition events did occur successfully within the genomes of each of the selected C. sakazakii isolates, these events were not dense enough to draw biological conclusions nor statistical inferences concerning which genes contribute to this organism’s uncanny desiccation tolerance. However, we concluded that the Tn-seq method is a promising tool with this organism of interest, despite incomplete results in this first round of experimentation.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science



Date Submitted


Document Type





low-moisture foods, neonatal infection, microbial genetics, foodborne pathogen, Cronobacter sakazakii



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Life Sciences Commons