Different strains of Listeria monocytogenes are well known to persist in individual food processing plants and to contaminate foods for many years; however, the specific genotypic and phenotypic mechanisms responsible for persistence of these unique strains remain largely unknown. Based on sequences in comK prophage junction fragments, different strains of epidemic clones (ECs), which included ECII, ECIII, and ECV, were identified and shown to be specific to individual meat and poultry processing plants. The comK prophage-containing strains showed significantly higher cell densities after incubation at 30°C for 48 h on meat and poultry food-conditioning films than did strains lacking the comK prophage (P < 0.05). Overall, the type of strain, the type of conditioning film, and the interaction between the two were all highly significant (P < 0.001). Recombination analysis indicated that the comK prophage junction fragments in these strains had evolved due to extensive recombination. Based on the results of the present study, we propose a novel model in which the concept of defective comK prophage was replaced with the rapid adaptation island (RAI). Genes within the RAI were recharacterized as “adaptons,” as these genes may allow L. monocytogenes to rapidly adapt to different food processing facilities and foods. If confirmed, the model presented would help explain Listeria's rapid niche adaptation, biofilm formation, persistence, and subsequent transmission to foods. Also, comK prophage junction fragment sequences may permit accurate tracking of persistent strains back to and within individual food processing operations and thus allow the design of more effective intervention strategies to reduce contamination and enhance food safety
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