Under a magnification of 3418x, this scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicted a number of Gram-negative Escherichia coli
bacteria of the strain O157:H7, which is one of hundreds of strains of this bacterium. Although most strains are harmless, and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, this strain produces a powerful toxin, which can cause severe illness.
E. coli O157:H7 was first recognized as a cause of illness in 1982 during an outbreak of severe bloody diarrhea; the outbreak was traced to contaminated hamburgers. Since then, most infections have come from eating undercooked ground beef.
The combination of letters and numbers in the name of the bacterium refers to the specific markers found on its surface, which distinguishes it from other types of E. coli.