Escherichia coli is a leading cause of mild and severe infections worldwide, and the frequent emergence of novel virulent and resistant pandemic clones represents a severe clinical concern. During the past decade, extensive genomic surveillance of E. coli, encompassing strains from both colonisation and disease, has deepened our understanding of factors contributing to virulence, shaped the map of resistance, and uncovered trends in population prevalence of clones across high-income countries (HICs)1,2,3,4,5,6. Several whole-genome sequencing (WGS)-based studies of Extended-Spectrum β-Lactamase (ESBL)-producing E. coli genetic variation have been conducted in Asia7,8,9,10, identifying a notable difference in the diversity of genetic lineages compared with Northern Europe and the US. In addition to narrowing the focus on ESBL-producing E. coli, none of these studies have used sweeps of bacterial growth from the enrichment medium followed by DNA extraction and whole-genome sequencing en masse to capture a more complete picture of the genetic diversity of E. coli in their samples. Thus, understanding remains limited about both the wider population diversity of E. coli lineages in Asia and the genetic diversity of E. coli colonising hosts at any single point in time, either with or without the influence of recent antibiotic use.

Recently, using Norwegian and British parallel surveillance data spanning nearly two decades of E. coli bacteremia surveillance, Pöntinen et al. demonstrated that the extent of non-penicillin β-lactam antibiotic use is a likely driver of the prevalence of the virulent ESBL-producing ST131 C2 clone in low-to-moderate antibiotic usage populations5. Furthermore, they showed that resistance frequencies and outpatient antibiotic usage generally remained de-coupled across different antibiotic classes and genetic lineages in such high-income settings. How these drivers are reflected in the distributions of resistant and susceptible lineages in regions with poor hygiene and extensive use of antibiotics remains unknown, which motivated us to conduct the current study.

Our study drawing upon WGS data presents the first opportunity to not only quantify the within-host genetic diversity of E. coli at strain-level resolution, but also assess the impact of antibiotic use on this diversity. Moreover, this investigation estimates the population distribution of E. coli genetic lineages in Punjab, Pakistan, and makes comparisons with the distributions estimated from genomic surveillance data collected in Norway, UK and the U.S. We demonstrate that multiple clones of E. coli circulating in Punjab are shared internationally, as members of these clones can be identified among carbapenemase-producing isolates from patients in Europe. Our data further suggest that some of the endemically circulating and clinically important clones in Europe sporadically turn up in Pakistan but do not become endemic in this region.


Escherichia coli carriage in the Punjab province of Pakistan

A total of 994 patients provided rectal swab samples at the Manga Mandi outpatient clinic (Fig. 1a). Of these, 497 delivered follow-up samples, one was excluded for missing information on antibiotic use, and two for a possible mixup of samples. The final cohort thus included 494 patients, out of which 258 (52.2%) were women/girls. Most patients were adults (433, 87.7%), with a median age of 38 years (IQR 28–50). Community samples (Fig. 1a) were provided by 423 volunteers, 208 (49.2%) of whom were women/girls. The median age of the volunteers was 28 years (IQR 12–42). There were 140 (33.1%) children, 13 of whom were two years old or younger.

Fig. 1: Description of the sampling.
figure 1

Panel (a) shows the location of the Manga Mandi hospital near Lahore (red circle with a white “H”) and the community sampling locations (purple numbered circles). Panel (b) describes the cohort recruitment and sampling procedure. Source data are provided as a Source Data file.

We analysed the short-read sequencing data obtained from the samples using the mSWEEP/mGEMS tools11,12, which together form a high-resolution computational metagenomics pipeline capable of resolving the composition of a sequencing data sample at a user-defined taxonomic level (see the Methods section for details). We resolved the samples with a hierarchical approach (Fig. 1b), first performing an initial species screening step on the samples as described in a previous study6 to exclude reads not originating from E. coli, and secondly resolving the composition of the E. coli reads to the level of PopPUNK sequence clusters. These clusters were defined to roughly correspond to E. coli clonal complexes, which are groups of similar sequence types (ST) previously defined on the basis of an allele typing scheme. Our approach resulted in 5247 high-quality (as defined in the 'Methods' section) bin-assembled genomes (BAGs). All results are reported for the high-quality BAGs unless noted otherwise and we refer to the BAGs assembled from bins corresponding to the same PopPUNK cluster with the name of the most common E. coli sequence type contained in the cluster.

The distribution of lineages circulating in Punjab differs markedly from those typically found in European and US surveillance

E. coli carriage in the Punjab cohorts is dominated by ST10, colonising about 70% of the individuals in the Manga Mandi hospital cohort on both sampling occasions as well as the community cohort (Fig. 2a and Supplementary Data 3). This finding is congruent with previous studies where ST10 has been found to be more frequently associated with asymptomatic colonisation than infections6,13. Like ST10, the second most common lineage identified, ST398, belongs to phylogroup A and is even more frequent in the community cohort. Unlike ST10, ST398 was extremely rare (3 isolates out of 3254) in a large Norwegian disease cohort2 and in two bloodstream infection cohorts from the UK (4 out of 1448 in the BSAC1 study1, 2 out of 718 in BSAC25), as well as in asymptomatic colonisation of neonates in the UK (Mäklin et al.6). These data combined suggest that ST398 rarely circulates in Europe, as a stark contrast to the Punjab study population. The third most common lineage circulating in Punjab is ST58, which has also been frequently found in clinical surveillance in Western countries and was commonly isolated from meat products in a recent One Health study conducted in the US14. ST58 has been described as an emerging pathogenic lineage15. Of the other common STs found in Punjab, most are atypical in HICs. Most of our volunteers carried multiple E. coli lineages at the same time (median 3 in all cohorts, Fig. 3).

Fig. 2: E. coli colonisation rates in the community samples and in the primary and follow-up samples stratified by antibiotic type.
figure 2

Panel (a) displays the percentage of individuals colonised (horizontal axis) by E. coli lineages (vertical axis) in the paired samples from the study participants recruited at the Manga Mandi hospital (labelled Primary visit or Follow-up) and for the cross-sectional community samples (labelled Community samples). Panel (b) displays the relative increase or decrease in colonisation in the follow-up samples stratified by type of antibiotic usage. Red lines correspond to data of participants who had received amoxicillin-clavulanate, fluoroquinolones, oral second or third generation cephalosporins, or parenteral third generation cephalosporins (nobody received other broad-spectrum parenteral β-lactams) between the primary and follow-up samples. Blue lines indicate data from participants who received another type of antibiotic. Black lines correspond to data of individuals not given antibiotics. The head of the arrow indicates a relative change in colonisation rate in the follow-up samples compared to the primary samples. Dashed arrows indicate shifts that were statistically significant at p < 0.10 (two-sided binomial proportions test with Benjamini-Hochberg correction for multiple testing). Both panels show values for the 31 most common lineages across all samples. Source data are provided as a Source Data file.

Fig. 3: Within-host E. coli diversity in the three cohorts.
figure 3

This plot displays the number of E. coli high-quality BAGs identified within each sample as a violin plot for each of the three cohorts. Outpatients from the Manga Mandi hospital are labelled with either “Primary” (green, data presented from 427 outpatients) or “Follow-up” (orange, data presented from 431 outpatients). Community participants are labelled with “Community” (purple, data presented from 376 participants). The width of the violin corresponds to the fraction of samples containing the number of E. coli lineages (rows). The embedded box shows the 25–75% quantile range and the whisker shows the 75–100% quantile range. The white circle denotes the median. Source data are provided as a Source Data file.

The overall distribution of E. coli STs in the two Punjabi cohorts (Fig. 2a and Supplementary Data 3) differs considerably from the distributions reported in systematic clinical surveillance studies conducted in HICs, such as Norway2, the UK1,5 and the US14. Notably, the uropathogenic ST73 and ST95, commonly observed in healthy carriage in the UK and France4,6 are frequent in bloodstream infections in multiple HICs2,5,14, but extremely rare in Punjab (frequency out of all BAGs 0.1% and 0.19%, respectively; Supplementary Data 3). Two other virulent sequence types ranking among the most common STs in HIC clinical surveillance, ST69 and ST131, are more frequent in Punjab than ST73 and ST95 (ST69 frequency 1.35%, ST131 frequency 0.53% in all BAGs). Notably, these are primarily found in the follow-up samples from the Manga Mandi hospital (60.56% and 57.14% of the total ST69 and ST131 identifications, respectively). Compared to the Manga Mandi hospital samples, the community samples often had higher overall E. coli colonisation rates with the exception of the specific clinically relevant lineages (ST69, ST131, ST648). Since these three STs were predominantly observed in the Manga Mandi hospital cohort and rarely in the community carriage, it is likely that they require additional or different selection pressure to promote their circulation among hosts.

Use of antibiotics and hospital visit are associated with an increase in virulent lineages

Next, we compared the ST frequencies between the paired samples from the Manga Mandi cohort. In particular, we focused on the impact of antibiotics prescribed either during the first visit after the sample was taken, or between the two visits, on the proportion of patients colonised by strains of each ST type (Supplementary Data 4). The antibiotics prescribed were divided into two groups. Group A comprised those considered to be most effective against E. coli in the gut: amoxicillin-clavulanate, fluoroquinolones, second and third generation per oral cephalosporins, and broad-spectrum parenteral β-lactams (of which only ceftriaxone was used). Group B consisted of all other systemic antibacterial medications with metronidazole, first generation cephalosporins, macrolides, and tetracyclines being the most common agents. Patients who received both a Group A and Group B antibiotic were assigned to Group A. If the patients had not been prescribed any antibiotics during the past 30-day period, their data were assigned to a ‘No antibiotics’ group.

The effect of antibiotics varied considerably in terms of proportions of patients colonised by the various E. coli lineages, but the overall trend was negative (Fig. 2b), particularly for group A antibiotics. The successful generalist lineage ST10 did not show a noticeable change for either group A or B antibiotics, while ST181 and ST685 both displayed a substantial relative reduction for group A. The most pronounced relative changes between the primary sample and follow-up sample were observed for ST69 and ST131, which were significantly enriched among those not receiving any antibiotics, and among those receiving group A antibiotics (for ST69). The estimated relative change was similarly positive for ST131 for the group A antibiotics, but the difference was not statistically significant, possibly due to a lack of statistical power under the multiple hypothesis testing correction.

Antimicrobial treatment and hospital visit triggers competition aiding virulent E. coli lineages

Prompted by the changes caused by antibiotic treatment, we investigated further the competition dynamics between the E. coli STs in the Manga Mandi cohort. We focused particularly on co-colonisation between the virulent lineages that were substantially enriched in the follow-up samples as described above, and other lineages which are of more commensal type, i.e. less frequently encountered in surveillance of bacteremia. An ST was defined to display substantial enrichment when more than half of its total observations were represented by the follow-up samples. Then we calculated the percentage of occurrences where these STs and the 30 most common STs were found together in the same sample, out of the total times they were found across both the primary and follow-up samples (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Coexistence between E. coli lineages observed in the study.
figure 4

The matrix shows the percentage of times an E. coli lineage belonging to a lineage (vertical axis) was observed together with another lineage (horizontal axis). The percentages are calculated out of the total times the lineages corresponding to the row and column were observed in the Manga Mandi hospital cohort. The column labelled Total shows the total number of times the lineage on each row was observed in the cohort. Lineages that had more than half of their total observations in the follow-up samples are separated by the dashed horizontal and vertical lines. For these lineages, co-observation counts are also shown in the plot. Cells labelled with an ‘x’ additionally denote lineage pairs more common in the follow-up samples. The plot shows the 30 most common lineages together with STs that were all substantially enriched in the follow-up samples. Source data are provided as a Source Data file.

Strikingly, the samples displaying an ST that was substantially enriched in the follow-up samples (ST69, ST131, ST405, ST504, ST648, or ST757) were significantly less diverse with respect to E. coli lineages present, compared to samples that contained only other, more commensal STs (one-tailed Hutcheson’s t-test for difference in Shannon diversity indices, p < 0.004). Since in the study region, even the commensals generally carry a substantial number of antibiotic resistance genes, it was intriguing to find the more virulent STs capable of displacing commensals during the stress induced by antibiotic treatment. A similar, but even more pronounced exclusion effect was seen between the enriched STs, which almost never co-colonised the same individual even though they were all found to benefit from antimicrobial treatment (Supplementary Data 3 and Fig. 2b). In contrast, the more commensal STs did not exhibit strong preferences for either coexistence or competition, which is in line with the observation of the study participants typically carrying multiple lineages at the same time (Fig. 3), representing a wide range of different common STs (Fig. 2a).

Resistance across multiple antimicrobial classes is common but carbapenem resistance remains rare

To investigate the presence of antimicrobial resistance-conferring traits in the lineages, we screened resistance genes and point mutations in each E. coli BAG from the 30 most common and the substantially enriched lineages (Fig. 5 and Supplementary Fig. 1) by using AMRFinderPlus. The results (Fig. 5) show the enrichment of various AMR traits in the substantially enriched lineages (STs 69, 131, 405, 504, 648, or 757) and a core set of AMR traits consisting of blaTEM-1, blaCTX-M-15, and gyrA_S83L and qnrS1 that are widespread across both the enriched and the common lineages.

Fig. 5: Antimicrobial resistance determinants in the study Escherichia coli population.
figure 5

The plot shows the percentage of times an AMR determinant (rows) was found in a specific E. coli lineage (columns) out of the total number of observations of the lineage. Values are included for the 30 most common lineages together with ST405, ST504, and ST543 which were all substantially enriched in the follow-up samples. The plot shows only the AMR determinants detected at least five times in the included lineages and had a minimum sequence identity of at least 95% and coverage of at least 90% to a reference in the AMRfinder+ database using the “pointx” or “allelex” method. Source data are provided as a Source Data file.

We also screened the E. coli BAGs for alleles of genes known to confer resistance to carbapenems, which are considered the last resort antibiotics against bacterial infections caused by gram-negatives. Among the 5,247 BAGs, only 17 carried carbapenemase-encoding genes. Out of these 17, 8 were identified as the NDM-5 allele scattered across multiple STs (ST156, ST410, ST443, ST685, and ST940) (Supplementary Data 5, Fig. 5). The remaining 9 identifications were alleles of the OXA-48-like carbapenemase: a single case of OXA-48 in ST940, and 8 cases of OXA-181 in ST10, ST448 and ST58. None of the carbapenemase genes were found in two BAGs from the same sample, nor were they found in two paired samples from the same individual, suggesting that strains carrying these genes were not able to persistently colonise the study subjects in the absence of sufficient selective pressure from the use carbapenems.

Evidence for intercontinental transmission of virulent E. coli lineages between Southern Asia and Northern Europe

For three STs previously identified as virulent or carrying carbapenem-resistance genes in Northern Europe (ST38, ST69, ST131), we embedded the BAGs from our study into a recombination-free phylogenetic tree (Methods) containing both carbapenemase-producing (CP) E. coli isolates from a population of Norwegian patients16 and the ST-specific reference data used in this study to investigate possible transmission of these STs between Southern Asia and Northern Europe. The study found that most CP isolates were associated with travel and/or hospitalisation abroad and that 62% of the travel-associated cases were linked to Asia, with Pakistan representing the third most common travel destination. The phylogenetic trees (Fig. 6) reveal substantial clustering of the Norwegian CP isolates with the BAGs from Punjab in all three STs, with only singleton cases of a Norwegian CP isolate aligning in a cluster containing no BAGs from our Punjab study.

Fig. 6: Phylogenetic trees embedding the Punjab bin-assembled genomes into international reference sequences.
figure 6

Panels contain the sequences for ST131 (a), ST38 (b), and ST69 (c). The tips labelled with ‘* ’ correspond to the BAGs from the current study, the tips with label ‘+’ to carbapenemase-producing isolates from Norwegian patients with recent travel history, and the tips with the label ‘o’ to carbapenemase-producing isolates from Norwegian patients without recent travel history. The bars on the right-hand side of each panel denote the subcontinent (UN M49 standard) the sequence was obtained from, if available. In panel (a) the edges in the phylogeny are coloured according to the ST131 clade the leaves belong to when the clade assignments were available in the source data. Source data are provided as a Source Data file.

Within the ST131 phylogeny (Fig. 6a), the BAGs from Punjab primarily belong to clades C0, C1, and C2, with just a few observed in clade A and none in clade B. This is congruent with previous genomic surveillance observations of ST131 clade B apparently lacking the ability to pick up MDR plasmids encoding either ESBL or carbapenemase genes, or both2,5.

Within the ST38 phylogeny (Fig. 6b), the BAGs from Punjab form two distinct clusters, one of which shows a clear association with Norwegian CP isolates belonging to this cluster. Similarly, for ST69 (Fig. 6c), the Punjab BAGs also form two clear clusters, and only one of them contains CP isolates from Norway, however, compared with ST38, these numbers are much smaller, which limits drawing even tentative conclusions about an association.


Pioneering work some 40 years ago using multi-locus gel electrophoresis of enzymes painted a picture of two kinds of E. coli strains that could either persistently colonise the human gut and be shared by family members and unrelated individuals from different locations, or live a life as more transient passers-by17,18. Subsequent research has considerably refined this picture and established a DNA-based nomenclature for the increasing number of genetic lineages circulating globally, encountered in bloodstream infections, and nowadays alarmingly often carrying resistance elements to multiple classes of antibiotics19. Adding to this knowledge, our study is the first high-resolution genomic study of the genetic diversity of E. coli colonising hosts in a single location that looks beyond the MDR phenotypes and ESBL producers, and also captures the impact of antibiotic treatment on the overall diversity in healthy E. coli carriage.

Recent investigation into E. coli carriage in a cohort of neonates from the UK highlighted strong colonisation competition between strains of E. coli using shotgun metagenomics and reported a range of similarities and dissimilarities with the prevalence of these strains in disease surveillance in the UK and elsewhere6. Other recent work has examined the E. coli colonisation competition in an LMIC hospital setting, characterised by endemically circulating ESBL-producing Enterobacterales, with and without antibiotic treatment selection pressure20. These and other findings provided a further impetus for us to study colonisation and AMR diversity in a location with extensive outpatient use of antibiotics, and investigate how specific genetic lineages might differentially benefit from treatments falling into distinct classes of antibiotics.

Data on medication history was limited to the Manga Mandi hospital prescription and dispensing registry since obtaining a reliable medical history from the patients themselves proved impossible. Some patients could have received antibiotics from elsewhere or bought them over the counter, but we consider it highly unlikely that any relevant quantities of antibiotics would have been acquired from other sources. Nearly all patients were very poor and all care and medications provided at the Manga Mandi hospital were part of their employment benefits, and they were allowed to visit the clinic during working hours. Thus, there was a strong counter-incentive for them to access medications from other sources, which lends support to the representativity of the medical records used in our study.

Another limitation is the storage of the stool samples of the community volunteers and the follow-up samples of the outpatients by the participants before they delivered the samples. They were instructed to collect the stool in the morning, store the sample in the shade and deliver it as early during the same day as possible. But the samples were in the jars for a few hours in ambient temperatures, which were often around 40 °C during the study period. This may have affected the bacterial composition to some degree compared to the primary samples taken by rectal swabs.

E. coli ST73 and ST95 represent two classical uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) lineages that have been extensively studied experimentally in vitro and in vivo, and by using epidemiological surveys conducted both during the pre- and post-bacterial population genomics era19,21,22,23. A systematic comparison of the prevalence of these two lineages in neonatal colonisation with their prevalence in bacteremia surveillance indicated a heightened level of virulence but also wide circulation in the human population, as ST73 and ST95 were among the top four lineages identified in healthy babies6. Strikingly, our results show them a near-zero prevalence in our study region, suggesting that these two lineages exhibiting largely antibiotic-susceptible phenotypes cannot sustain themselves in a region marked by abundant antibiotic use (WHO GLASS In contrast, ST69 and ST131, which were the other two E. coli lineages in the top four of neonatal colonisation and bacteremia in the UK5,6, often display an MDR phenotype in HICs. This is congruent with our observation of an approximately 10-fold higher prevalence than seen for ST73 and ST95. However, our data further suggest that in the absence of recent antibiotic use or visit to a clinic, ST131 and ST69 are less competitive colonisers (in Punjab, Pakistan) than other lineages, as shown by their significantly higher frequencies in the outpatient follow-up samples. This finding contradicts the recent results from a gnotobiotic mouse model related to a superior MDR ST131 colonisation ability compared with ST73 as a resident strain24. Since the competition may be further influenced by nutrient availability and other factors of the wider host microbiota, further research is critically needed to generate a mechanistic understanding about the interplay of intrinsic and ecological factors determining the relative successes of the top lineages in a host population.

Our observations of particular clades of the Punjab ST38 and ST69 lineages linking closely with carbapenemase-producing isolates from patients in Norway warrant further investigation. This finding corroborates the involvement of these lineages in the international transmission of carbapenemases, calling for better coordinated international efforts directed not only at disease isolates but also at asymptomatic carriage of MDR bacteria with critical resistance elements found in highly transmissible lineages. Furthermore, the tentative clustering of patient isolates primarily with particular clades seen in gut colonisation in Punjab, motivates the use of long-read sequencing technology in the future, seeking to capture plasmids and variation in their gene content in this region. Since the carbapenemase genes are typically acquired and maintained on plasmids, they may be co-localised with virulence and other fitness-enhancing elements that increase the likelihood of observing them in disease surveillance. It is a clear clinical concern, should highly transmissible lineages of E. coli follow the same path of convergence between AMR and virulence that has been observed in Klebsiella pneumoniae25,26.

ST58 has been found relatively frequently in human bacteremia in both Norway2 and the UK5 A recent systematic One Health survey from the U.S. clearly attributed these infections to foodborne illness originating from meat14, in line with a previous reporting of ST58 as a primarily animal-adapted lineage with high zoonotic pathogenic potential27. The very high prevalence of ST58 in human gut colonisation in Punjab (the third most common lineage) indicates that either the zoonotic transmission pressure is very high in this region, or the lineage is well adapted to persistently colonising and transmitting also among humans, in contrast with the evidence from HIC clinical and meat surveillance data. It is further possible that the baseline microbiota composition of the hosts differs systematically to benefit ST58 in colonisation competition. Further research is thus warranted into the molecular mechanisms allowing its persistence in the human gut, to complement recent findings on plasmid content stratifying the distribution of ST58 across different animal hosts15 and on the lineage-specific associations between virulence genes within the ST58 population28.

The finding of ST398 being the second most frequent coloniser of the study population is intriguing since it has been very rarely identified in either disease, in healthy colonisation or in food sources in Western countries, based on the large genomic surveillance studies mentioned above (Gladstone et al. 2; Pöntinen et al. 5; Mäklin et al. 6; Liu et al. 14). Lack of genomic resolution disease surveillance data from the study region currently prevents drawing conclusions about the relative virulence potential of ST398, however, there is a clear need for deeper investigation into the ecological and genetic factors that underpin its remarkably higher success in colonisation and transmission in this region.

We found a wide diversity of genetic lineages harbouring extensive levels of AMR, which is hardly surprising, given the considerable frequency of travellers from Europe to Asia becoming colonised with MDR E. coli7,29,30. The most common lineage in our study, ST10, colonised approximately the same fraction of patients visiting the clinic as participants in the community arm of the study. In addition to several other classes of resistance elements, ST10 was detected to carry multiple different versions of carbapenemase-producing genes (both NDM and OXA). While the prevalence of these genes was not particularly high, usage of carbapenems is relatively rare in this region due to their cost (WHO GLASS:, which suggests that generalist lineages such as ST10 are capable of acquiring and maintaining these genes without an excessive fitness cost. Given its ability to effectively colonise the human gut asymptomatically, ST10 has the potential to act as a global dissemination vehicle of AMR genes without becoming notified as a prevalent source, since beyond some exceptions considering community carriage31, surveillance is nearly exclusively performed from clinical samples, in particular for critical AMR such as ESBLs and carbapenemases16,32. Neither the global population structure of ST10, nor the molecular mechanisms behind its general success in colonising humans are currently well understood, which calls for in-depth studies of this generalist E. coli to aid future efforts in mitigating the public health burden across the wide spectrum of extra-intestinal pathogenic E. coli genetic variation.


Ethics approval

The study was approved by the ethics committee of the School of Biological Sciences, University of the Punjab (ref no: SBS/822/15). Participants were given information about the study in Urdu, and written informed consent was obtained from both the outpatients and the community volunteers.

Sample collection

Outpatients were recruited at the Punjab Social Security Health Management Company Hospital Raiwind (Manga Mandi hospital) in the Lahore Metropolitan area between April 2016 and June 2016. It provides primary and secondary healthcare for 83,000 industrial workers and their families. Patients of all ages visiting the clinic were referred to us by their physicians. After obtaining informed consent, the patients were interviewed. Their rectal swabs were taken with nylon swabs (FLOQSwab™, Copan Diagnostics, Italy) and stored in a modified Cary-Blair medium (FecalSwab™, Copan Diagnostics, Italy). The specimens were cultured within 48 h on CLED agar at 37 °C, and all growth was collected after 48–72 h and frozen at -80 °C in milk glycerol. The patients were subsequently handed out jars for follow-up stool samples to be delivered after four weeks. The returned jars were stored in cold boxes, the stools were transferred to FecalSwab™ tubes the same evening, and the samples were then processed the same way as the previous ones.

In addition to the Manga Mandi Hospital outpatients, community volunteers were recruited at eight different locations in the Punjab region, covering both urban and rural settings between March 2016 and June 2016. After interviewing and obtaining informed consent from the volunteers, they were given jars for collecting a stool sample to be delivered to us by the following morning. These stool samples were stored and processed identically to the outpatients’ follow-up samples. Neither the outpatients nor the community received compensation for taking part in the study. The sample collection locations are presented in Fig. 1a and the overall sample processing is visualised in Fig. 1b.

Sequencing and population genomics analyses

Genomic DNA was extracted from bacterial growth on a Cystine Lactose Electrolyte-Deficient (CLED) agar plate (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Waltham, MA, USA) using the ZymoBIOMICS 96 MagBead Kit (Zymo Researcher, CA, USA) and sequenced en masse at high depth using Illumina NovaSeq 6000 machines. Sequencing generated an average of 4,420,020 150 bp paired-end reads, equating to a coverage depth of 93X for samples dominated by E. coli.

Species-level taxonomic profiling and binning

We used the mGEMS pipeline12 as described in a previous study6 to identify the E. coli lineages in each sequencing sample. Briefly, the sequencing reads were first preprocessed with fastp33 (v0.23.2, OpenGene/fastp, we ran quality filtering, adaptor and polyG tail trimming, and paired-end read error correction) and pseudoaligned against the species-level index of the 661k genomes collection34 produced as part of another study35 ( with Themisto35 (v3.0.0-rc). Next, the pseudoalignments were used to estimate species-level relative abundances using mSWEEP11 (v2.0.0, PROBIC/mSWEEP) and the reads were assigned to species-level bins with the mGEMS binning algorithm12 (ran from mSWEEP v2.0.0 using the --bin-reads option, described in). Bins were created for species with a relative abundance of at least 0.1%.

E. coli index construction and lineage identification

Before performing lineage identification, we expanded the E. coli index from6 (available from with isolate assemblies from four large studies conducted in Laos, Pakistan, Thailand, and Malawi10,36,37,38. Because these studies added a significant number of assemblies from lineages that were underrepresented in the original index, we redefined the lineages in the expanded index using PopPUNK39 (v2.5.0, we used the same parameters as in a previous study6). The expanded index files are available from Zenodo (

Lineage-level taxonomic profiling and binning

After constructing the expanded index, we pseudoaligned reads from each E. coli bin against the index with Themisto (v3.0.0-rc) and estimated lineage-level relative abundances using mSWEEP (v2.0.0). The reads were then assigned to lineage-level bins using mGEMS for lineages with a minimum relative abundance of at least 1%, and a set of in-house scripts (tmaklin/coreutils_demix_check, v0.3.2) was used to check that the reads assigned to each lineage-level bin had good representation in the expanded index. With these scripts, a bin was considered to pass the check if the mash40 (v2.3) distance between the reads in the lineage-level bin and the assemblies in the index was lower than the maximum distance between the assemblies in the index (score 1 from the in-house scripts) or below an acceptable threshold slightly above the maximum (score 2 from the in-house scripts).

Assembly from lineage-level bins and quality filtering

Reads from each lineage-level bin created in the previous step were assembled using shovill (v1.1.0, tseemann/shovill, read correction disabled, minimum contig length 300, minimum coverage 1.0x) which is an assembly pipeline built around the SPAdes41 assembler (we used v3.15.5). Each bin-assembled genome (BAG) was subjected to further quality control by calculating the completeness and contamination using checkm42 (v1.2.1, taxonomy workflow for E. coli). BAGs with a completeness score below 90% or contamination score above 10% were removed. Assembly statistics were calculated for the remaining BAGs using assembly stats (commit id c006b9c, sanger-pathogens/assembly-stats) and assemblies shorter than 4 Mb or longer than 6 Mb in total length were removed. A total of 5,671 BAGs (out of an initial total of 6,370 lineage-level bins) passed these filters and were considered high-quality identifications.

Antimicrobial resistance gene and allele detection

We ran AMRFinderPlus43 (v3.10.42, database version 2022-10-11.2, Escherichia taxonomy group, minimum identity 95% and minimum coverage 90%) on the high-quality BAGs and extracted the results that were assigned to the “AMR” class with the ALLELEX or the POINTX methods.

Quality filtering for phylogenies

Extra-quality filtering was performed on the 5,671 BAGs in order to determine the assemblies that were of suitably high quality to include in a phylogenetic analysis. We used the contig-level analysis in gunc44 (v1.0.5, with modifications added in tmaklin/gunc, database version 2.1, --sensitive flag enabled) to identify contigs that did not have any genes assigned to the Escherichia taxonomy and removed these contigs using an in-house script (available from tmaklin/bioinfo-scripts). Afterwards, assemblies shorter than 4 Mb or longer than 6 Mb, and assemblies with more than 600 contigs (after filtering with gunc) were removed. We ran gunc again on the remaining BAGs to identify chimerism and retained those that passed the default filter. In total, these extra filters left 3,116 BAGs for the phylogenetic analyses.

Combined isolate and BAG phylogenies

Within each E. coli lineage included in the phylogeny analyses, we first determined a reference assembly for each lineage by running assembly stats on the isolate assemblies and designating the assembly with the highest median contig lengths (N50) within each lineage as the reference. We then mapped all other isolate assemblies from each lineage against their respective references using SKA245,46 (v0.3.3, bacpop/ska.rust) and ran gubbins47 (v3.2.1, nickjcroucher/gubbins, --best-model option enabled and maximum 15% missing sites allowed) on the resulting alignment to determine recombination sites. A custom script (available from tmaklin/bioinfo-scripts) was used to extract the recombination sites identified by gubbins from the alignment.

Next, SKA2 (k-mer size 31) was used to index all isolate assemblies and BAGs belonging to the same E. coli lineage that passed the extra-quality filtering described earlier. We then used SKA2 to remove the sites affected by recombination to build reference-free alignments containing both the isolate assemblies and BAGs. Finally, a tree was constructed from the reference-free alignment by running snp-sites48 (commit id 52c98cb, sanger-pathogens/snp-sites) on the alignment and using VeryFastTree49 (v3.3.0, citiususc/veryfasttree, GTR+Gamma model with max. 20 categories) to infer a maximum likelihood phylogeny.

Reporting summary

Further information on research design is available in the Nature Portfolio Reporting Summary linked to this article.