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Objective To study the detailed nature of genomic microevolution during mixed infection with multiple Helicobacter pylori strains in an individual.

Design We sampled 18 isolates from a single biopsy from a patient with chronic gastritis and nephritis. Whole-genome sequencing was applied to these isolates, and statistical genetic tools were used to investigate their evolutionary history.

Results The genomes fall into two clades, reflecting colonisation of the stomach by two distinct strains, and these lineages have accumulated diversity during an estimated 2.8 and 4.2 years of evolution. We detected about 150 clear recombination events between the two clades. Recombination between the lineages is a continuous ongoing process and was detected on both clades, but the effect of recombination in one clade was nearly an order of magnitude higher than in the other. Imputed ancestral sequences also showed evidence of recombination between the two strains prior to their diversification, and we estimate that they have both been infecting the same host for at least 12 years.

Recombination tracts between the lineages were, on average, 895 bp in length, and showed evidence for the interspersion of recipient sequences that has been observed in in vitro experiments. The complex evolutionary history of a phage-related protein provided evidence for frequent reinfection of both clades by a single phage lineage during the past 4 years.

Conclusions Whole genome sequencing can be used to make detailed conclusions about the mechanisms of genetic change of H. pylori based on sampling bacteria from a single gastric biopsy.