Genomic Diversity of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus 2 in Patients With Coronavirus Disease 2019

Clin Infect Dis. 2020 Jul 28;71(15):713-720. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa203.


Background: A novel coronavirus (CoV), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV-2, has infected >75 000 individuals and spread to >20 countries. It is still unclear how fast the virus evolved and how it interacts with other microorganisms in the lung.

Methods: We have conducted metatranscriptome sequencing for bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from 8 patients with SARS-CoV-2, and also analyzed data from 25 patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), and 20 healthy controls for comparison.

Results: The median number of intrahost variants was 1-4 in SARS-CoV-2-infected patients, ranged from 0 to 51 in different samples. The distribution of variants on genes was similar to those observed in the population data. However, very few intrahost variants were observed in the population as polymorphisms, implying either a bottleneck or purifying selection involved in the transmission of the virus, or a consequence of the limited diversity represented in the current polymorphism data. Although current evidence did not support the transmission of intrahost variants in a possible person-to-person spread, the risk should not be overlooked. Microbiotas in SARS-CoV-2-infected patients were similar to those in CAP, either dominated by the pathogens or with elevated levels of oral and upper respiratory commensal bacteria.

Conclusion: SARS-CoV-2 evolves in vivo after infection, which may affect its virulence, infectivity, and transmissibility. Although how the intrahost variant spreads in the population is still elusive, it is necessary to strengthen the surveillance of the viral evolution in the population and associated clinical changes.

Keywords: COVID-19; CoV-2; SARS; intrahost variant; microbiota; transmission.

Publication types

  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome*