Evolutionary origins of the SARS-CoV-2 sarbecovirus lineage responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic

Boni, M. F., Lemey, P., Jiang, X., Lam, T. T.-Y., Perry, B. W., Castoe, T. A., Rambaut, A. and Robertson, D. L. (2020) Evolutionary origins of the SARS-CoV-2 sarbecovirus lineage responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Nature Microbiology, 5(11), pp. 1408-1417. (doi: 10.1038/s41564-020-0771-4) (PMID:32724171)

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Abstract

There are outstanding evolutionary questions on the recent emergence of human coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 including the role of reservoir species, the role of recombination and its time of divergence from animal viruses. We find that the sarbecoviruses—the viral subgenus containing SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2—undergo frequent recombination and exhibit spatially structured genetic diversity on a regional scale in China. SARS-CoV-2 itself is not a recombinant of any sarbecoviruses detected to date, and its receptor-binding motif, important for specificity to human ACE2 receptors, appears to be an ancestral trait shared with bat viruses and not one acquired recently via recombination. To employ phylogenetic dating methods, recombinant regions of a 68-genome sarbecovirus alignment were removed with three independent methods. Bayesian evolutionary rate and divergence date estimates were shown to be consistent for these three approaches and for two different prior specifications of evolutionary rates based on HCoV-OC43 and MERS-CoV. Divergence dates between SARS-CoV-2 and the bat sarbecovirus reservoir were estimated as 1948 (95% highest posterior density (HPD): 1879–1999), 1969 (95% HPD: 1930–2000) and 1982 (95% HPD: 1948–2009), indicating that the lineage giving rise to SARS-CoV-2 has been circulating unnoticed in bats for decades.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:The research leading to these results received funding (to A.R. and P.L.) from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 725422-ReservoirDOCS). D.L.R. is funded by the MRC (no. MC_UU_1201412). The Artic Network receives funding from the Wellcome Trust through project no. 206298/Z/17/Z. P.L. acknowledges support by the Research Foundation—Flanders (‘Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek—Vlaanderen’ (nos. G066215N, G0D5117N and G0B9317N)) and by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project MOOD (no. 874850). T.L. is funded by The National Natural Science Foundation of China Excellent Young Scientists Fund (Hong Kong and Macau; no. 31922087).
Keywords:Molecular evolution, phylogenetic, SARS-CoV-2, viral evolution.
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Robertson, Professor David
Authors: Boni, M. F., Lemey, P., Jiang, X., Lam, T. T.-Y., Perry, B. W., Castoe, T. A., Rambaut, A., and Robertson, D. L.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Infection Immunity and Inflammation
Journal Name:Nature Microbiology
Publisher:Nature Research
ISSN:2058-5276
ISSN (Online):2058-5276
Published Online:28 July 2020

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