Betacoronavirus Genomes: How Genomic Information has been Used to Deal with Past Outbreaks and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Jun 26;21(12):4546. doi: 10.3390/ijms21124546.


In the 21st century, three highly pathogenic betacoronaviruses have emerged, with an alarming rate of human morbidity and case fatality. Genomic information has been widely used to understand the pathogenesis, animal origin and mode of transmission of coronaviruses in the aftermath of the 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreaks. Furthermore, genome sequencing and bioinformatic analysis have had an unprecedented relevance in the battle against the 2019-2020 coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the newest and most devastating outbreak caused by a coronavirus in the history of mankind. Here, we review how genomic information has been used to tackle outbreaks caused by emerging, highly pathogenic, betacoronavirus strains, emphasizing on SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. We focus on shared genomic features of the betacoronaviruses and the application of genomic information to phylogenetic analysis, molecular epidemiology and the design of diagnostic systems, potential drugs and vaccine candidates.

Keywords: COVID-19; MERS-CoV; SARS-CoV; SARS-CoV-2; betacoronaviruses; genomics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Betacoronavirus / genetics*
  • Betacoronavirus / immunology
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology*
  • Drug Design
  • Genes, Viral
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Humans
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Phylogeny
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology*
  • SARS Virus / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / virology
  • Viral Vaccines / genetics
  • Viral Vaccines / immunology


  • Viral Vaccines