The enteric bacterium Escherichia coli is a ubiquitous component of every human being, forming a part of the normal gut flora, and is arguably the most well understood free-living organism on the planet. It is a model organism that is also well known by the general public -- usually by the abbreviated name E. coli. Most people associate E. coli with illness and have some recollection of cows, undercooked burgers and strains like O157:H7, after the outbreaks that killed elderly people in Lanarkshire, Scotland, in the 1990s. This article introduces the side of E. coli that the public know less about -- its role in the past, present and future as a model organism in the study of biology and the numerous applications that have been spawned from E. coli research.

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