Growth characteristics of coliphage viruses indicate that they are adapted to live with their Eschericia coli hosts in the intestinal tract. However, coliphage experimentally introduced by ingestion persist only transiently if at all in the gut of humans and other animals. This study attempted to identify the barriers to long term establishment of exogenous coliphage in the gastrointestinal (GI) tracts of laboratory mice. Intestinal contents were screened for the presence of coliphage and host bacteria, and strains of E. coli bacteria from different segments of the GI tract were tested for susceptibility to six common laboratory coliphages.
Contrary to expectations, coliphage were not evident in the GI tracts of laboratory mice, although they were occasionally detected in feces. Commensal flora showed extreme variability within groups of mice despite identical handling and diet. Less than 20% of 48 mice tested carried E. coli in their gut, and of 22 commensal E. coli strains isolated and tested, 59% were completely resistant to infection by lambda, M13, P1, T4, T7, and PhiX174 coliphage. Lysogeny could not be demonstrated in the commensal strains as mitomycin C failed to induce detectable phage. Pre-existing immunity to phages was not evident as sera and fecal washes did not contain significant antibody titers to six laboratory phage types.
Lack of sufficient susceptible host bacteria seems to be the most likely barrier to establishment of new coliphage infections in the mouse gut.