Background: Predicting which pathogens might exhibit antimicrobial resistance (AMR) based on genomics data is one of the promising ways to swiftly and precisely identify AMR pathogens. Currently, the most widely used genomics approach is through identifying known AMR genes from genomic information in order to predict whether a pathogen might be resistant to certain antibiotic drugs. The list of known AMR genes, however, is still far from comprehensive and may result in inaccurate AMR pathogen predictions. We thus felt the need to expand the AMR gene set and proposed a pan-genome-based feature selection method to identify potential gene sets for AMR prediction purposes. Results: By building pan-genome datasets and extracting gene presence/absence patterns from four bacterial species, each with more than 2000 strains, we showed that machine learning models built from pan-genome data can be very promising for predicting AMR pathogens. The gene set selected by the eXtreme Gradient Boosting (XGBoost) feature selection approach further improved prediction outcomes, and an incremental approach selecting subsets of XGBoost-selected features brought the machine learning model performance to the next level. Investigating selected gene sets revealed that on average about 50% of genes had no known function and very few of them were known AMR genes, indicating the potential of the selected gene sets to expand resistance gene repertoires. Conclusions: We demonstrated that a pan-genome-based feature selection approach is suitable for building machine learning models for predicting AMR pathogens. The extracted gene sets may provide future clues to expand our knowledge of known AMR genes and provide novel hypotheses for inferring bacterial AMR mechanisms.
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