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Brief Bioinform ; 22(2): 616-630, 2021 03 22.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1343634


Various next generation sequencing (NGS) based strategies have been successfully used in the recent past for tracing origins and understanding the evolution of infectious agents, investigating the spread and transmission chains of outbreaks, as well as facilitating the development of effective and rapid molecular diagnostic tests and contributing to the hunt for treatments and vaccines. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic poses one of the greatest global threats in modern history and has already caused severe social and economic costs. The development of efficient and rapid sequencing methods to reconstruct the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the etiological agent of COVID-19, has been fundamental for the design of diagnostic molecular tests and to devise effective measures and strategies to mitigate the diffusion of the pandemic. Diverse approaches and sequencing methods can, as testified by the number of available sequences, be applied to SARS-CoV-2 genomes. However, each technology and sequencing approach has its own advantages and limitations. In the current review, we will provide a brief, but hopefully comprehensive, account of currently available platforms and methodological approaches for the sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 genomes. We also present an outline of current repositories and databases that provide access to SARS-CoV-2 genomic data and associated metadata. Finally, we offer general advice and guidelines for the appropriate sharing and deposition of SARS-CoV-2 data and metadata, and suggest that more efficient and standardized integration of current and future SARS-CoV-2-related data would greatly facilitate the struggle against this new pathogen. We hope that our 'vademecum' for the production and handling of SARS-CoV-2-related sequencing data, will contribute to this objective.

COVID-19/virology , Genome, Viral , High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing/methods , SARS-CoV-2/genetics , COVID-19/epidemiology , Humans , Pandemics
Mol Biol Evol ; 38(6): 2547-2565, 2021 05 19.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1238217


Effective systems for the analysis of molecular data are fundamental for monitoring the spread of infectious diseases and studying pathogen evolution. The rapid identification of emerging viral strains, and/or genetic variants potentially associated with novel phenotypic features is one of the most important objectives of genomic surveillance of human pathogens and represents one of the first lines of defense for the control of their spread. During the COVID 19 pandemic, several taxonomic frameworks have been proposed for the classification of SARS-Cov-2 isolates. These systems, which are typically based on phylogenetic approaches, represent essential tools for epidemiological studies as well as contributing to the study of the origin of the outbreak. Here, we propose an alternative, reproducible, and transparent phenetic method to study changes in SARS-CoV-2 genomic diversity over time. We suggest that our approach can complement other systems and facilitate the identification of biologically relevant variants in the viral genome. To demonstrate the validity of our approach, we present comparative genomic analyses of more than 175,000 genomes. Our method delineates 22 distinct SARS-CoV-2 haplogroups, which, based on the distribution of high-frequency genetic variants, fall into four major macrohaplogroups. We highlight biased spatiotemporal distributions of SARS-CoV-2 genetic profiles and show that seven of the 22 haplogroups (and of all of the four haplogroup clusters) showed a broad geographic distribution within China by the time the outbreak was widely recognized-suggesting early emergence and widespread cryptic circulation of the virus well before its isolation in January 2020. General patterns of genomic variability are remarkably similar within all major SARS-CoV-2 haplogroups, with UTRs consistently exhibiting the greatest variability, with s2m, a conserved secondary structure element of unknown function in the 3'-UTR of the viral genome showing evidence of a functional shift. Although several polymorphic sites that are specific to one or more haplogroups were predicted to be under positive or negative selection, overall our analyses suggest that the emergence of novel types is unlikely to be driven by convergent evolution and independent fixation of advantageous substitutions, or by selection of recombined strains. In the absence of extensive clinical metadata for most available genome sequences, and in the context of extensive geographic and temporal biases in the sampling, many questions regarding the evolution and clinical characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 isolates remain open. However, our data indicate that the approach outlined here can be usefully employed in the identification of candidate SARS-CoV-2 genetic variants of clinical and epidemiological importance.

COVID-19/genetics , Evolution, Molecular , Genome, Viral , Genomics , Phylogeny , SARS-CoV-2/genetics , Humans