Analysis of important human pathogen populations is currently under transition toward whole-genome sequencing of growing numbers of samples collected on a global scale. Since recombination in bacteria is often an important factor shaping their evolution by enabling resistance elements and virulence traits to rapidly transfer from one evolutionary lineage to another, it is highly beneficial to have access to tools that can detect recombination events. Multiple advanced statistical methods exist for such purposes; however, they are typically limited either to only a few samples or to data from relatively short regions of a total genome. By harnessing the power of recent advances in Bayesian modeling techniques, we introduce here a method for detecting homologous recombination events from whole-genome sequence data for bacterial population samples on a large scale. Our statistical approach can efficiently handle hundreds of whole genome sequenced population samples and identify separate origins of the recombinant sequence, offering an enhanced insight into the diversification of bacterial clones at the level of the whole genome. A data set of 241 whole genome sequences from an important pandemic lineage of Streptococcus pneumoniae is used together with multiple simulated data sets to demonstrate the potential of our approach.
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