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Virus Evol ; 8(2): veac054, 2022.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1931907


Recombination contributes to the genetic diversity found in coronaviruses and is known to be a prominent mechanism whereby they evolve. It is apparent, both from controlled experiments and in genome sequences sampled from nature, that patterns of recombination in coronaviruses are non-random and that this is likely attributable to a combination of sequence features that favour the occurrence of recombination break points at specific genomic sites, and selection disfavouring the survival of recombinants within which favourable intra-genome interactions have been disrupted. Here we leverage available whole-genome sequence data for six coronavirus subgenera to identify specific patterns of recombination that are conserved between multiple subgenera and then identify the likely factors that underlie these conserved patterns. Specifically, we confirm the non-randomness of recombination break points across all six tested coronavirus subgenera, locate conserved recombination hot- and cold-spots, and determine that the locations of transcriptional regulatory sequences are likely major determinants of conserved recombination break-point hotspot locations. We find that while the locations of recombination break points are not uniformly associated with degrees of nucleotide sequence conservation, they display significant tendencies in multiple coronavirus subgenera to occur in low guanine-cytosine content genome regions, in non-coding regions, at the edges of genes, and at sites within the Spike gene that are predicted to be minimally disruptive of Spike protein folding. While it is apparent that sequence features such as transcriptional regulatory sequences are likely major determinants of where the template-switching events that yield recombination break points most commonly occur, it is evident that selection against misfolded recombinant proteins also strongly impacts observable recombination break-point distributions in coronavirus genomes sampled from nature.

Genome Biol Evol ; 14(2)2022 02 04.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1684680


The lack of an identifiable intermediate host species for the proximal animal ancestor of SARS-CoV-2, and the large geographical distance between Wuhan and where the closest evolutionary related coronaviruses circulating in horseshoe bats (members of the Sarbecovirus subgenus) have been identified, is fueling speculation on the natural origins of SARS-CoV-2. We performed a comprehensive phylogenetic study on SARS-CoV-2 and all the related bat and pangolin sarbecoviruses sampled so far. Determining the likely recombination events reveals a highly reticulate evolutionary history within this group of coronaviruses. Distribution of the inferred recombination events is nonrandom with evidence that Spike, the main target for humoral immunity, is beside a recombination hotspot likely driving antigenic shift events in the ancestry of bat sarbecoviruses. Coupled with the geographic ranges of their hosts and the sampling locations, across southern China, and into Southeast Asia, we confirm that horseshoe bats, Rhinolophus, are the likely reservoir species for the SARS-CoV-2 progenitor. By tracing the recombinant sequence patterns, we conclude that there has been relatively recent geographic movement and cocirculation of these viruses' ancestors, extending across their bat host ranges in China and Southeast Asia over the last 100 years. We confirm that a direct proximal ancestor to SARS-CoV-2 has not yet been sampled, since the closest known relatives collected in Yunnan shared a common ancestor with SARS-CoV-2 approximately 40 years ago. Our analysis highlights the need for dramatically more wildlife sampling to: 1) pinpoint the exact origins of SARS-CoV-2's animal progenitor, 2) the intermediate species that facilitated transmission from bats to humans (if there is one), and 3) survey the extent of the diversity in the related sarbecoviruses' phylogeny that present high risk for future spillovers.

Chiroptera/virology , Coronavirus/genetics , Pangolins/virology , Phylogeny , Recombination, Genetic , Animals , Humans , Phylogeography