Pangenome analysis can help reveal functional and physiological differences between organisms by linking genes present in their genomes with phenotypic characteristics. While this works well for closely-related organisms and large numbers of isolates, analysis of species with a large pangenome may be problematic as optimal sample size increases with intraspecies diversity. Organisms such as E. coli exhibit high intraspecies diversity, resulting in an exceptionally large pangenome, pushing the limits of what constitutes a species. However, the phylogeny of the mobile elements can differ strongly from the phylogeny of the rest of the genome, reflecting how rapidly these elements can be gained or lost. We suggest when studying adaptations on a short genetic time-scale (ie, within species or strain), the mobile regions of the genome may be more informative than the more stable parts of the genome. To this end, we developed a pipeline, Horizontally Acquired Partial Pangenome of Inserted Elements (or ‘happie’), which allows researchers to study the mobile pangenome. Thus, happie could be used as a proxy to detect genes associated with a particular trait amidst the noise of a diverse genetic background. We aim to use happie to compare a panel of known soil-persistent E. coli isolates and a curated panel of non-soil-persistent isolates. This will allow us to determine whether specific mobile elements (or genes carried on those elements) are associated with soil persistence, which would indicate that the cost of harbouring the mobile element was less than the advantage conferred.

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