Epidemiologists aim to inform the design of public health interventions with evidence on the evolution, emergence and spread of infectious diseases. Sequencing of pathogen genomes, together with date, location, clinical manifestation and other relevant data about sample origins, can contribute to describing nearly every aspect of transmission dynamics, including local transmission and global spread. The analyses of these data have implications for all levels of clinical and public health practice, from institutional infection control to policies for surveillance, prevention and treatment. This review highlights the range of epidemiological questions that can be addressed from the combination of genome sequence and traditional 'line lists' (tables of epidemiological data where each line includes demographic and clinical features of infected individuals). We identify opportunities for these data to inform interventions that reduce disease incidence and prevalence. By considering current limitations of, and challenges to, interpreting these data, we aim to outline a research agenda to accelerate the genomics-driven transformation in public health microbiology.