The origin and underlying driving forces of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
S.-M. ChawHurng-Yi Wang


The spread of SARS-CoV-2 since December 2019 has become a pandemic and impacted many aspects of human society. Here, we analyzed genetic variation of SARS-CoV-2 and its related coronavirus and found the evidence of intergenomic recombination. After correction for mutational bias, analysis of 137 SARS-CoV-2 genomes as of 2/23/2020 revealed the excess of low frequency mutations on both synonymous and nonsynonymous sites which is consistent with recent origin of the virus. In contrast to adaptive evolution previously reported for SARS-CoV in its brief epidemic in 2003, our analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes shows signs of relaxation of selection. The sequence similarity of the spike receptor binding domain between SARS-CoV-2 and a sequence from pangolin is probably due to an ancient intergenomic introgression. Therefore, SARS-CoV-2 might have cryptically circulated within humans for years before being recently noticed. Data from the early outbreak and hospital archives are needed to trace its evolutionary path and reveal critical steps required for effective spreading. Two mutations, 84S in orf8 protein and 251V in orf3 protein, occurred coincidentally with human intervention. The 84S first appeared on 1/5/2020 and reached a plateau a...Continue Reading

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