Profiling SARS-CoV-2 mutation fingerprints that range from the viral pangenome to individual infection quasispecies. Genome medicine Lau, B. T., Pavlichin, D., Hooker, A. C., Almeda, A., Shin, G., Chen, J., Sahoo, M. K., Huang, C. H., Pinsky, B. A., Lee, H. J., Ji, H. P. 2021; 13 (1): 62


BACKGROUND: The genome of SARS-CoV-2 is susceptible to mutations during viral replication due to the errors generated by RNA-dependent RNA polymerases. These mutations enable the SARS-CoV-2 to evolve into new strains. Viral quasispecies emerge from de novo mutations that occur in individual patients. In combination, these sets of viral mutations provide distinct genetic fingerprints that reveal the patterns of transmission and have utility in contact tracing.METHODS: Leveraging thousands of sequenced SARS-CoV-2 genomes, we performed a viral pangenome analysis to identify conserved genomic sequences. We used a rapid and highly efficient computational approach that relies on k-mers, short tracts of sequence, instead of conventional sequence alignment. Using this method, we annotated viral mutation signatures that were associated with specific strains. Based on these highly conserved viral sequences, we developed a rapid and highly scalable targeted sequencing assay to identify mutations, detect quasispecies variants, and identify mutation signatures from patients. These results were compared to the pangenome genetic fingerprints.RESULTS: We built a k-mer index for thousands of SARS-CoV-2 genomes and identified conserved genomics regions and landscape of mutations across thousands of virus genomes. We delineated mutation profiles spanning common genetic fingerprints (the combination of mutations in a viral assembly) and a combination of mutations that appear in only a small number of patients. We developed a targeted sequencing assay by selecting primers from the conserved viral genome regions to flank frequent mutations. Using a cohort of 100 SARS-CoV-2 clinical samples, we identified genetic fingerprints consisting of strain-specific mutations seen across populations and de novo quasispecies mutations localized to individual infections. We compared the mutation profiles of viral samples undergoing analysis with the features of the pangenome.CONCLUSIONS: We conducted an analysis for viral mutation profiles that provide the basis of genetic fingerprints. Our study linked pangenome analysis with targeted deep sequenced SARS-CoV-2 clinical samples. We identified quasispecies mutations occurring within individual patients and determined their general prevalence when compared to over 70,000 other strains. Analysis of these genetic fingerprints may provide a way of conducting molecular contact tracing.

View details for DOI 10.1186/s13073-021-00882-2

View details for PubMedID 33875001