Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) are important gastrointestinal pathogens of humans. E. coli serotype O157:H7 is the EHEC most commonly associated with human illness. E. coli O157:H7 is carried asymptomatically by cattle which form an important reservoir for the bacterium. E. coli O157:H7 has been found to colonise at the terminal rectum of cattle in preference to other sites in the bovine gastrointestinal tract. The first objective of this work was to characterise the roles of bacterial secreted components responsible for key functions in the modulation of host defences against EHEC. Data presented here reaffirms the role of flagellin in the elicitation of a proinflammatory response in a cultured human epithelial cell line; however, the response of a bovine epithelial cell line to bacterial secreted products was not affected by the presence or absence of flagellin. A role in the modulation of the host response for the StcE protease was also investigated: although its role in interaction with the bovine host was not established, bovine secretory antibodies to StcE were detected in rectal mucosal scrapings from an E. coli O157:H7-challenged calf, suggesting that StcE is expressed and recognised in vivo. The second key objective was to isolate E. coli from the bovine intestinal tract in order to define the colonisation patterns of E. coli within the bovine intestinal tract and relate this to bacterial genotype and to provide bovine E. coli isolates to test for inhibitory activity against E. coli O157:H7 which may yield bacteria with potential as probiotic agents with a view to reducing the prevalence of EHEC in cattle. Genotypic analysis of bovine resident E. coli confirmed that these strains carry a variety of virulence factor-encoding genes; however, certain dominant genotypes were identified and the genomic structure of representative isolates was predicted by genomic microarray. EHEC-related genotypes were found to be positively associated with colonisation at the rectum, whereas non-EHEC genotypes were found to colonise multiple intestinal sites without showing any apparent site-specificity. The third and final objective of this analysis was to carry out genotypic analysis of Scottish EHEC strains in order to predict whether increased incidence of EHEC infection in Scotland may be related to the presence of EHEC strains carrying altered complement of virulence factor-encoding genes. The analysis of EHEC isolated in Scotland revealed that these strains exhibit a genomic profile which is largely typical of EHEC isolated elsewhere, although there were certain differences in the carriage of a certain genomic elements. The results presented here support the proposal that bacteriophages are the key mediators of genetic variability among E. coli isolates.