Molecular Evolution of Human Coronavirus Genomes

Trends Microbiol. 2017 Jan;25(1):35-48. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2016.09.001. Epub 2016 Oct 19.


Human coronaviruses (HCoVs), including SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, are zoonotic pathogens that originated in wild animals. HCoVs have large genomes that encode a fixed array of structural and nonstructural components, as well as a variety of accessory proteins that differ in number and sequence even among closely related CoVs. Thus, in addition to recombination and mutation, HCoV genomes evolve through gene gains and losses. In this review we summarize recent findings on the molecular evolution of HCoV genomes, with special attention to recombination and adaptive events that generated new viral species and contributed to host shifts and to HCoV emergence. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Keywords: gene gain/loss; host shift; human coronavirus; molecular evolution; positive selection; recombination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Viral / genetics*
  • Hemagglutinins, Viral / genetics
  • Hemagglutinins, Viral / metabolism
  • Host Specificity / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics*
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / genetics
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus / genetics*
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins / metabolism


  • Hemagglutinins, Viral
  • Viral Fusion Proteins
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins
  • hemagglutinin esterase
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases