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Melioidosis is an often-fatal neglected tropical disease caused by an environmental bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei . However, our understanding of the disease-causing bacterial lineages, their dissemination, and adaptive mechanisms remains limited. To address this, we conducted a comprehensive genomic analysis of 1,391 B. pseudomallei isolates collected from nine hospitals in northeast Thailand between 2015 and 2018, and contemporaneous isolates from neighbouring countries, representing the most densely sampled collection to date. Our study identified three dominant lineages with unique gene sets enhancing bacterial fitness, indicating lineage-specific adaptation strategies. Crucially, recombination was found to drive lineage-specific gene flow. Transcriptome analyses of representative clinical isolates from each dominant lineage revealed heightened expression of lineage-specific genes in environmental versus infection conditions, notably under nutrient depletion, highlighting environmental persistence as a key factor in the success of dominant lineages. The study also revealed the role of environmental factors - slope of terrain, altitude, direction of rivers, and the northeast monsoons - in shaping B. pseudomallei geographical dispersal. Collectively, our findings highlight persistence in the environment as a pivotal element facilitating B. pseudomallei spread, and as a prelude to exposure and infection, thereby providing useful insights for informing melioidosis prevention and control strategies.

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