Gene-gene relationships in an Escherichia coli accessory genome are linked to function and mobility

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Rebecca J Hall
  • Fiona J Whelan
  • Elizabeth A Cummins
  • Christopher Connor
  • James O McInerney

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Nottingham University


The pangenome contains all genes encoded by a species, with the core genome present in all strains and the accessory genome in only a subset. Coincident gene relationships are expected within the accessory genome, where the presence or absence of one gene is influenced by the presence or absence of another. Here, we analysed the accessory genome of an Escherichia coli pangenome consisting of 400 genomes from 20 sequence types to identify genes that display significant co-occurrence or avoidance patterns with one another. We present a complex network of genes that are either found together or that avoid one another more often than would be expected by chance, and show that these relationships vary by lineage. We demonstrate that genes co-occur by function, and that several highly connected gene relationships are linked to mobile genetic elements. We find that genes are more likely to co-occur with, rather than avoid, another gene in the accessory genome. This work furthers our understanding of the dynamic nature of prokaryote pangenomes and implicates both function and mobility as drivers of gene relationships.


Original languageEnglish
Article number000650
JournalMicrobial Genomics
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sep 2021


  • Escherichia coli, evolution, gene co-occurrence and pangenome