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Recurrent mutations in SARS-CoV-2 genomes isolated from mink point to rapid host-adaptation

By Lucy van Dorp, Cedric CS Tan, Su Datt Lam, Damien Richard, Christopher Owen, Dorothea Berchtold, Christine Orengo, Fran├žois Balloux

Posted 16 Nov 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.11.16.384743

Severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the agent of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, jumped into humans from an unknown animal reservoir in late 2019. In line with other coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to infect a broad range of hosts. SARS-CoV-2 genomes have now been isolated from cats, dogs, lions, tigers and minks. SARS-CoV-2 seems to transmit particularly well in mink farms with outbreaks reported in Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, the USA and Denmark. Genomic data from SARS-CoV-2 isolated from infected minks provides a natural case study of a secondary host jump of the virus, in this case from humans to animals, and occasionally back again. We screened published SARS-CoV-2 genomes isolated from minks for the presence of recurrent mutations common in mink but infrequent in SARS-CoV-2 genomes from human infections. We identify 23 recurrent mutations including three nonsynonymous mutations in the Receptor Binding Domain of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that independently emerged at least four times but are only very rarely observed in strains circulating in humans. The repeat emergence of mutations across phylogenetically distinct lineages of the virus isolated from minks points to ongoing adaptation of SARS-CoV-2 to a new host. The rapid acquisition and spread of SARS-CoV-2 mutations in minks suggests that if a similar phenomenon of host adaptation had occurred upon its jump into humans, those human-specific mutations would likely have reached fixation already before the first SARS-CoV-2 genomes were generated. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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