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      Signal hotspot mutations in SARS-CoV-2 genomes evolve as the virus spreads and actively replicates in different parts of the world


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          • Study of SARS-CoV-2 genomes from world-wide isolates.

          • Sequence comparisons of 570 isolates to original Wuhan 2019 SARS-CoV-2 clade.

          • Identification of several hotspot mutants after world-wide spreading of virus.

          • Several hotspot mutations affect sequences of replication-relevant viral proteins.

          • How do hotspot mutations relate to viral pathogenicity?


          Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) was first identified in Wuhan, China late in 2019. Nine months later (Sept. 18, 2020), the virus has infected > 30 million people world-wide and caused > 944.000 (3.15 %) fatalities in 220 countries and territories. Research on the genetics of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, its mutants and their penetrance can aid future defense strategies. By analyzing sequence data deposited between December 2019 and end of May 2020, we have compared nucleotide sequences of 570 SARS-CoV-2 genomes from China, Europe, the US, and India to the sequence of the Wuhan isolate. During world-wide spreading among human populations, at least 10 distinct hotspot mutations had been selected and found in up to > 80 % of viral genomes. Many of these mutations led to amino acid exchanges in replication-relevant viral proteins. Mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome would also impinge upon the secondary structure of the viral RNA molecule and its repertoire of interactions with essential cellular and viral proteins. The increasing frequency of SARS-CoV-2 mutation hotspots might select for dangerous viral pathogens. Alternatively, in a 29.900 nucleotide-genome, there might be a limit to the number of mutable and selectable sites which, when exhausted, could prove disadvantageous to viral survival. The speed, at which novel SARS-CoV-2 mutants are selected and dispersed around the world, could pose problems for the development of vaccines and therapeutics.

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          Most cited references15

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          A Novel Coronavirus from Patients with Pneumonia in China, 2019

          Summary In December 2019, a cluster of patients with pneumonia of unknown cause was linked to a seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, China. A previously unknown betacoronavirus was discovered through the use of unbiased sequencing in samples from patients with pneumonia. Human airway epithelial cells were used to isolate a novel coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV, which formed a clade within the subgenus sarbecovirus, Orthocoronavirinae subfamily. Different from both MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, 2019-nCoV is the seventh member of the family of coronaviruses that infect humans. Enhanced surveillance and further investigation are ongoing. (Funded by the National Key Research and Development Program of China and the National Major Project for Control and Prevention of Infectious Disease in China.)
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            Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia

            Abstract Background The initial cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)–infected pneumonia (NCIP) occurred in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019 and January 2020. We analyzed data on the first 425 confirmed cases in Wuhan to determine the epidemiologic characteristics of NCIP. Methods We collected information on demographic characteristics, exposure history, and illness timelines of laboratory-confirmed cases of NCIP that had been reported by January 22, 2020. We described characteristics of the cases and estimated the key epidemiologic time-delay distributions. In the early period of exponential growth, we estimated the epidemic doubling time and the basic reproductive number. Results Among the first 425 patients with confirmed NCIP, the median age was 59 years and 56% were male. The majority of cases (55%) with onset before January 1, 2020, were linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, as compared with 8.6% of the subsequent cases. The mean incubation period was 5.2 days (95% confidence interval [CI], 4.1 to 7.0), with the 95th percentile of the distribution at 12.5 days. In its early stages, the epidemic doubled in size every 7.4 days. With a mean serial interval of 7.5 days (95% CI, 5.3 to 19), the basic reproductive number was estimated to be 2.2 (95% CI, 1.4 to 3.9). Conclusions On the basis of this information, there is evidence that human-to-human transmission has occurred among close contacts since the middle of December 2019. Considerable efforts to reduce transmission will be required to control outbreaks if similar dynamics apply elsewhere. Measures to prevent or reduce transmission should be implemented in populations at risk. (Funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China and others.)
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              Tracking changes in SARS-CoV-2 Spike: evidence that D614G increases infectivity of the COVID-19 virus

              Summary A SARS-CoV-2 variant carrying the Spike protein amino acid change D614G has become the most prevalent form in the global pandemic. Dynamic tracking of variant frequencies revealed a recurrent pattern of G614 increase at multiple geographic levels: national, regional and municipal. The shift occurred even in local epidemics where the original D614 form was well established prior to the introduction of the G614 variant. The consistency of this pattern was highly statistically significant, suggesting that the G614 variant may have a fitness advantage. We found that the G614 variant grows to higher titer as pseudotyped virions. In infected individuals G614 is associated with lower RT-PCR cycle thresholds, suggestive of higher upper respiratory tract viral loads, although not with increased disease severity. These findings illuminate changes important for a mechanistic understanding of the virus, and support continuing surveillance of Spike mutations to aid in the development of immunological interventions.

                Author and article information

                Virus Res
                Virus Res
                Virus Research
                The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V.
                24 September 2020
                24 September 2020
                : 198170
                [a ]Institute for Clinical and Molecular Virology, Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) Erlangen-Nürnberg, 91054, Erlangen, Germany
                [b ]Department of Biostatistics, UCLA School of Public Health, Los Angeles, CA, 90095-1772, USA
                [c ]Institute of Genetics, University of Cologne, 50674, Cologne, Germany
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author at: Institute for Clinical and Molecular Virology, Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) Erlangen-Nürnberg, Schlossgarten 4, D-91054, Erlangen, Germany.
                S0168-1702(20)31077-7 198170
                © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V.

                Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.

                : 1 August 2020
                : 18 September 2020
                : 19 September 2020

                Microbiology & Virology
                severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (sars-cov-2),sequence comparisons between 570 viral genomes to wuhan isolate,selection of viral hotspot mutations,impact on replication-relevant viral proteins,consequences for secondary and tertiary structures of viral rna,questions about immunogenesis and vaccine development


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