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SARS-CoV-2 Quasispecies provides insight into its genetic dynamics during infection

By Fengming Sun, Xiuhua Wang, Shun Tan, Yunjie Dan, Yanqiu Lu, Juan Zhang, Junli Xu, Zhaoxia Tan, Xiaomei Xiang, Yi Zhou, Weiwei He, Xing Wan, Wei Zhang, Yaokai Chen, Wenting Tan, Guohong Deng

Posted 20 Aug 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.20.258376

A novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caused by SARS-CoV-2 has been pandemic worldwide. The genetic dynamics of quasispecies afford RNA viruses a great fitness on cell tropism and host range. However, no quasispecies data of SARS-CoV-2 have been reported yet. To explore quasispecies haplotypes and its transmission characteristics, we carried out single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing of the full-length of SARS-CoV-2 spike gene within 14 RNA samples from 2 infection clusters, covering first- to third-generation infected-patients. We observed a special quasispecies structure of SARS-CoV-2 (modeled as 'One-King'): one dominant haplotype (mean abundance ~70.15%) followed by numerous minor haplotypes (mean abundance < 0.10%). We not only discovered a novel dominant haplotype of F1040 but also realized that minor quasispecies were also worthy of attention. Notably, some minor haplotypes (like F1040 and currently pandemic one G614) could potentially reveal adaptive and converse into the dominant one. However, minor haplotypes exhibited a high transmission bottleneck (~6% could be stably transmitted), and the new adaptive/dominant haplotypes were likely originated from genetic variations within a host rather than transmission. The evolutionary rate was estimated as 2.68-3.86 ×10-3 per site per year, which was larger than the estimation at consensus genome level. The 'One-King' model and conversion event expanded our understanding of the genetic dynamics of SARS-CoV-2, and explained the incomprehensible phenomenon at the consensus genome level, such as limited cumulative mutations and low evolutionary rate. Moreover, our findings suggested the epidemic strains may be multi-host origin and future traceability would face huge difficulties. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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