Escherichia coli (shortened to E. coli) is a bacterium that typically resides within the intestines of animals, including human. Most strains are harmless, but specific strains cause disease. The CDC explains this includes diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and other symptoms.
Wikipedia adds the cells are typically rod-shaped as in the photograph above, about 2 um long, and 0.5 um in diameter. They can transfer DNA via bacterial conjugation, transduction, or transformation. The latter is where a bacterium re-engineers itself into a different DNA type, and can result in almost instantaneous appearance of toxic populations.
Outbreak is new form of E. coli tells that a new strain of the bacterium is causing a deadly form of haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS) which affects blood and the kidneys. So far 1500 people have been infected and 18 have died. The BBC article explains this strain has a gene that results in a toxin and another gene which causes the bacteria to colonize rapidly in the intestines, resulting in high levels of toxin in the victims.
The outbreak was originally blamed on Spanish cucumbers, but no vegetables have been discovered with this particular strain of E. coli. Still, Russia has banned all fresh vegetables from Europe.
Desktop DNA Decoder Takes on Deadly E. Coli Strain tells that the genetic code was quickly sequenced on a new product named the Ion Torrent. The analysis has shown the new bacterium has several antibiotic resistance genes which will make treatment extremely difficult. It is 93 percent similar to the Central African Republic strain EAEC 559589 strain which caused severe diarrhea. As noted earlier, the additional genes result in toxins for HUS. You can download the sequencing here.