Escherichia coli ĕsh˝ərĭk´ēə kō´lī [key], common bacterium that normally inhabits the intestinal tracts of humans and animals, but can cause infection in other parts of the body, especially the urinary tract. It is the most common member of the genus Escherichia, named for Theodor Escherich, a German physician. E. coli is a Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacterium propelled by long, rapidly rotating flagella. It is part of the normal flora of the mouth and gut and helps protect the intestinal tract from bacterial infection, aids in digestion, and produces small amounts of vitamins B12 and K. The bacterium, which is also found in soil and water, is widely used in laboratory research and is said to be the most thoroughly studied life form. In genetic engineering it is the microorganism preferred for use as a host for the gene-splicing techniques used to clone genes.
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