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J Virol Methods ; 299: 114333, 2022 01.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1525873


The increasing prevalence of N501Y variants of SARS-CoV-2 has kindled global concern due to their enhanced transmissibility. Genome sequencing is the gold standard method to identify the emerging variants of concern. But it is time-consuming and expensive, limiting the widespread deployment of genome surveillance in some countries. Health authorities surge the development of alternative assay to expand screening capacity with reduced time and cost. In this study, we developed an in-house TaqMan minor groove binder (MGB) probe-based one-step RT-qPCR assay to detect the presence of N501Y mutation in SARS-CoV-2. A total of 168 SARS-CoV-2 positive respiratory specimens were collected to determine diagnostic accuracy of the RT-qPCR assay. As a reference standard, PANGO lineages and the mutation patterns of all samples were characterised by whole-genome sequencing. The analytical sensitivity and the ability of the assay to detect low frequency of N501Y variants were also evaluated. A total of 31 PANGO lineages were identified from 168 SARS-CoV-2 positive cases, in which 34 samples belonged to N501Y variants, including B.1.1.7 (n = 20), B.1.351 (n = 12) and P.3 (n = 2). The N501Y RT-qPCR correctly identified all 34 samples as N501Y-positive and the other 134 samples as wildtype. The limit-of-detection of the assay consistently achieved 1.5 copies/µL on four different qPCR platforms. N501Y mutation was successfully detected at an allele frequency as low as 10 % in a sample with mixed SARS-CoV-2 lineage. The N501Y RT-qPCR is simple and inexpensive (US$1.6 per sample). It enables robust high-throughput screening for surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern harbouring N501Y mutation.

COVID-19 , SARS-CoV-2 , Humans , Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction , Whole Genome Sequencing
Commun Biol ; 4(1): 1102, 2021 09 20.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1428909


Emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been shown to rapidly replace original circulating strains in humans soon after they emerged. There is a lack of experimental evidence to explain how these natural occurring variants spread more efficiently than existing strains of SARS-CoV-2 in transmission. We found that the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) increased competitive fitness over earlier parental D614G lineages in in-vitro and in-vivo systems. Using hamster transmission model, we further demonstrated that the Alpha variant is able to replicate and shed more efficiently in the nasal cavity of hamsters than other variants with low dose and short duration of exposure. The capability to initiate effective infection with low inocula may be one of the key factors leading to the rapid transmission of emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2.

COVID-19/genetics , SARS-CoV-2/genetics , Virus Replication/genetics , Animals , COVID-19/pathology , COVID-19/transmission , Cell Line/virology , Cricetinae , Disease Models, Animal , Humans , SARS-CoV-2/pathogenicity
Emerg Infect Dis ; 27(1): 196-204, 2021 01.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-993249


Initial cases of coronavirus disease in Hong Kong were imported from mainland China. A dramatic increase in case numbers was seen in February 2020. Most case-patients had no recent travel history, suggesting the presence of transmission chains in the local community. We collected demographic, clinical, and epidemiologic data from 50 patients, who accounted for 53.8% of total reported case-patients as of February 28, 2020. We performed whole-genome sequencing to determine phylogenetic relationship and transmission dynamics of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infections. By using phylogenetic analysis, we attributed the community outbreak to 2 lineages; 1 harbored a common mutation, Orf3a-G251V, and accounted for 88.0% of the cases in our study. The estimated time to the most recent common ancestor of local coronavirus disease outbreak was December 24, 2019, with an evolutionary rate of 3.04 × 10-3 substitutions/site/year. The reproduction number was 1.84, indicating ongoing community spread.

COVID-19/epidemiology , COVID-19/virology , Disease Outbreaks , Adult , Aged , Aged, 80 and over , COVID-19/transmission , Cluster Analysis , Disease Hotspot , Evolution, Molecular , Female , Hong Kong/epidemiology , Humans , Male , Middle Aged , Mutation , Phylogeny , Phylogeography , SARS-CoV-2/genetics , SARS-CoV-2/isolation & purification , Viroporin Proteins/genetics , Whole Genome Sequencing , Young Adult