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Specific allelic discrimination of N501Y and other SARS-CoV-2 mutations by ddPCR detects B.1.1.7 lineage in Washington State

By Garrett A. Perchetti, Haiying Zhu, Margaret G Mills, Lasata Shretha, Cassia Wagner, Shah Mohamed Bakhash, Michelle J Lin, Hong Xie, Meeili Huang, Patrick C Mathias, Trevor Bedford, Keith Jerome, Alex Greninger, Pavitra Roychoudhury

Posted 12 Mar 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.10.21253321

Real-time epidemiological tracking of variants of interest can help limit the spread of more contagious forms of SARS-CoV-2, such as those containing the N501Y mutation. Typically, genetic sequencing is required to be able to track variants of interest in real-time. However, sequencing can take time and may not be accessible in all laboratories. Genotyping by RT-ddPCR offers an alternative to sequencing to rapidly detect variants of concern through discrimination of specific mutations such as N501Y that is associated with increased transmissibility. Here we describe the first cases of the B.1.1.7 lineage of SARS-CoV-2 detected in Washington State by using a combination of RT-PCR, RT-ddPCR, and next-generation sequencing. We screened 1,035 samples positive for SARS-CoV-2 by our CDC-based laboratory developed assay using ThermoFishers multiplex RT-PCR COVID-19 assay over four weeks from late December 2020 to early January 2021. S gene dropout candidates were subsequently assayed by RT-ddPCR to confirm four mutations within the S gene associated with the B.1.1.7 lineage: a deletion at amino acid (AA) 69-70 (ACATGT), deletion at AA 145, (TTA), N501Y mutation (TAT), and S982A mutation (GCA). All four targets were detected in two specimens, and follow-up sequencing revealed a total of 10 mutations in the S gene and phylogenetic clustering within the B.1.1.7 lineage. As variants of concern become increasingly prevalent, molecular diagnostic tools like RT-ddPCR can be utilized to quickly, accurately, and sensitively distinguish more contagious lineages of SARS-CoV-2.

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