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Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21258689


We present evidence for multiple independent origins of recombinant SARS-CoV-2 viruses sampled from late 2020 and early 2021 in the United Kingdom. Their genomes carry single nucleotide polymorphisms and deletions that are characteristic of the B.1.1.7 variant of concern, but lack the full complement of lineage-defining mutations. Instead, the remainder of their genomes share contiguous genetic variation with non-B.1.1.7 viruses circulating in the same geographic area at the same time as the recombinants. In four instances there was evidence for onward transmission of a recombinant-origin virus, including one transmission cluster of 45 sequenced cases over the course of two months. The inferred genomic locations of recombination breakpoints suggest that every community-transmitted recombinant virus inherited its spike region from a B.1.1.7 parental virus, consistent with a transmission advantage for B.1.1.7s set of mutations.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21254006


Currently the primary method for confirming acute SARS-CoV-2 infection is through the use of molecular assays that target highly conserved regions within the viral genome. Many, if not most of the diagnostic targets currently in use were produced early in the pandemic, using genomes sequenced and shared in early 2020. As viral diversity increases, mutations may arise in diagnostic target sites that have an impact on the performance of diagnostic tests. Here, we report on a local outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 which had gained an additional mutation at position 28890 of the nucleocapsid protein, on a background of pre-existing mutations at positions 28881, 28882, 28883 in one of the main circulating viral lineages in Wales at that time. The impact of this additional mutation had a statistically significant impact on the Ct value reported for the N gene target designed by the Chinese CDC and used in a number of commercial diagnostic products. Further investigation identified that, in viral genomes sequenced from Wales over the summer of 2020, the N gene had a higher rate of mutations in diagnostic target sites than other targets, with 115 issues identified affecting over 10% of all cases sequenced between February and the end of August 2020. In comparison an issue was identified for ORFab, the next most affected target, in less than 1.4% of cases over the same time period. This work emphasises the potential impact that mutations in diagnostic target sites can have on tracking local outbreaks, as well as demonstrating the value of genomics as a routine tool for identifying and explaining potential diagnostic primer issues as part of a laboratory quality management system. This work also indicates that with increasing genomic sequencing data availability, there is a need to re-evaluate the diagnostic targets that are in use for SARS-CoV-2 testing, to better target regions that are now demonstrated to be of lower variability.

Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-328328


Genomic epidemiology has become an increasingly common tool for epidemic response. Recent technological advances have made it possible to sequence genomes rapidly enough to inform outbreak response, and cheaply enough to justify dense sampling of even large epidemics. With increased availability of sequencing it is possible for agile networks of sequencing facilities to collaborate on the sequencing and analysis of epidemic genomic data. In response to the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in the United Kingdom, the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium was formed with the aim of rapidly sequencing SARS-CoV-2 genomes as part of a national-scale genomic surveillance strategy. The network consists of universities, academic institutes, regional sequencing centres and the four UK Public Health Agencies. We describe the development and deployment of Majora, an encompassing digital infrastructure to address the challenge of collecting and integrating both genomic sequencing data and sample-associated metadata produced across the COG-UK network. The system was designed and implemented pragmatically to stand up capacity rapidly in a pandemic caused by a novel virus. This approach has underpinned the success of COG-UK, which has rapidly become the leading contributor of SARS-CoV-2 genomes to international databases and has generated over 60,000 sequences to date.