Biological machine learning combined with campylobacter population genomics reveals virulence gene allelic variants cause disease

Dj Darwin R. Bandoy, Bart C. Weimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Highly dimensional data generated from bacterial whole-genome sequencing is providing an unprecedented scale of information that requires an appropriate statistical analysis framework to infer biological function from populations of genomes. The application of genome-wide association study (GWAS) methods is an appropriate framework for bacterial population genome analysis that yields a list of candidate genes associated with a phenotype, but it provides an unranked measure of importance. Here, we validated a novel framework to define infection mechanism using the combination of GWAS, machine learning, and bacterial population genomics that ranked allelic variants that accurately identified disease. This approach parsed a dataset of 1.2 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and indels that resulted in an importance ranked list of associated alleles of porA in Campylobacter jejuni using spatiotemporal analysis over 30 years. We validated this approach using previously proven laboratory experimental alleles from an in vivo guinea pig abortion model. This framework, termed µPathML, defined intestinal and extraintestinal groups that have differential allelic porA variants that cause abortion. Divergent variants containing indels that defeated automated annotation were rescued using biological context and knowledge that resulted in defining rare, divergent variants that were maintained in the population over two continents and 30 years. This study defines the capability of machine learning coupled with GWAS and population genomics to simultaneously identify and rank alleles to define their role in infectious disease mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number549
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Abortion
  • Allelic variation
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Bacterial metastasis
  • Campylobacter
  • Infectious disease
  • Pora
  • Protein modeling
  • Xgboost

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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