Genomic Diversity of SARS-CoV-2 in Coronavirus Disease 2019 Patients

Clin Infect Dis. 2020 Mar 4;ciaa203. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa203. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

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

Methods: We have conducted metatranscriptome sequencing for the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of eight SARS-CoV-2 patients, 25 community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) patients, and 20 healthy controls.

Results: The median number of intra-host variants was 1-4 in SARS-CoV-2 infected patients, which ranged between 0 and 51 in different samples. The distribution of variants on genes was similar to those observed in the population data (110 sequences). However, very few intra-host variants were observed in the population as polymorphism, 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 intra-host variants in a person-to-person spread, the risk should not be overlooked. The microbiota in SARS-CoV-2 infected patients was 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 intra-host 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; SARS-CoV-2; intra-host variant; microbiota; transmission.