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biorxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.08.12.456131


An accurate understanding of the evolutionary history of rapidly-evolving viruses like SARS-CoV-2, responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, is crucial to tracking and preventing the spread of emerging pathogens. However, viruses undergo frequent recombination, which makes it difficult to trace their evolutionary history using traditional phylogenetic methods. Here, we present a phylogenetic workflow, virDTL, for analyzing viral evolution in the presence of recombination. Our approach leverages reconciliation methods developed for inferring horizontal gene transfer in prokaryotes, and, compared to existing tools, is uniquely able to identify ancestral recombinations while accounting for several sources of inference uncertainty, including in the construction of a strain tree, estimation and rooting of gene family trees, and reconciliation itself. We apply this workflow to the Sarbecovirus subgenus and demonstrate how a principled analysis of predicted recombination gives insight into the evolution of SARS-CoV-2. In addition to providing confirming evidence for the horseshoe bat as its zoonotic origin, we identify several ancestral recombination events that merit further study.

medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.06.21.21259286


SARS-CoV-2 evolution threatens vaccine- and natural infection-derived immunity, and the efficacy of therapeutic antibodies. Herein we sought to predict Spike amino acid changes that could contribute to future variants of concern. We tested the importance of features comprising epidemiology, evolution, immunology, and neural network-based protein sequence modeling. This resulted in identification of the primary biological drivers of SARS-CoV-2 intra-pandemic evolution. We found evidence that resistance to population-level host immunity has increasingly shaped SARS-CoV-2 evolution over time. We identified with high accuracy mutations that will spread, at up to four months in advance, across different phases of the pandemic. Behavior of the model was consistent with a plausible causal structure wherein epidemiological variables integrate the effects of diverse and shifting drivers of viral fitness. We applied our model to forecast mutations that will spread in the future, and characterize how these mutations affect the binding of therapeutic antibodies. These findings demonstrate that it is possible to forecast the driver mutations that could appear in emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. This modeling approach may be applied to any pathogen with genomic surveillance data, and so may address other rapidly evolving pathogens such as influenza, and unknown future pandemic viruses.

biorxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.07.08.193946


Viral mutation that escapes from human immunity remains a major obstacle to antiviral and vaccine development. While anticipating escape could aid rational therapeutic design, the complex rules governing viral escape are challenging to model. Here, we demonstrate an unprecedented ability to predict viral escape by using machine learning algorithms originally developed to model the complexity of human natural language. Our key conceptual advance is that predicting escape requires identifying mutations that preserve viral fitness, or “grammaticality,” and also induce high antigenic change, or “semantic change.” We develop viral language models for influenza hemagglutinin, HIV Env, and SARS-CoV-2 Spike that we use to construct antigenically meaningful semantic landscapes, perform completely unsupervised prediction of escape mutants, and learn structural escape patterns from sequence alone. More profoundly, we lay a promising conceptual bridge between natural language and viral evolution. One sentence summary Neural language models of semantic change and grammaticality enable unprecedented prediction of viral escape mutations.

HIV Infections