[Tracing the origins of SARS-COV-2 in coronavirus phylogenies]

Med Sci (Paris). Aug-Sep 2020;36(8-9):783-796. doi: 10.1051/medsci/2020123. Epub 2020 Aug 10.
[Article in French]


SARS-CoV-2 is a new human coronavirus (CoV), which emerged in People's Republic of China at the end of 2019 and is responsible for the global Covid-19 pandemic that caused more than 540 000 deaths in six months. Understanding the origin of this virus is an important issue and it is necessary to determine the mechanisms of its dissemination in order to be able to contain new epidemics. Based on phylogenetic inferences, sequence analysis and structure-function relationships of coronavirus proteins, informed by the knowledge currently available, we discuss the different scenarios evoked to account for the origin - natural or synthetic - of the virus. On the basis of currently available data, it is impossible to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 is the result of a natural zoonotic emergence or an accidental escape from experimental strains. Regardless of its origin, the study of the evolution of the molecular mechanisms involved in the emergence of this pandemic virus is essential to develop therapeutic and vaccine strategies.

Title: Retrouver les origines du SARS-CoV-2 dans les phylogénies de coronavirus.

Abstract: Le SARS-CoV-2 est un nouveau coronavirus (CoV) humain. Il a émergé en Chine fin 2019 et est responsable de la pandémie mondiale de Covid-19 qui a causé plus de 540 000 décès en six mois. La compréhension de l’origine de ce virus est une question importante et il est nécessaire de déterminer les mécanismes de sa dissémination afin de pouvoir se prémunir de nouvelles épidémies. En nous fondant sur des inférences phylogénétiques, l’analyse des séquences et les relations structure-fonction des protéines de coronavirus, éclairées par les connaissances actuellement disponibles, nous discutons les différents scénarios évoqués pour rendre compte de l’origine - naturelle ou synthétique - du virus.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Betacoronavirus / classification
  • Betacoronavirus / genetics*
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification
  • Biohazard Release
  • COVID-19
  • China / epidemiology
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / virology*
  • Coronaviridae Infections / transmission
  • Coronaviridae Infections / veterinary
  • Coronaviridae Infections / virology
  • Coronavirus / classification*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology*
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gain of Function Mutation
  • Genome, Viral
  • HIV / genetics
  • Host Specificity
  • Humans
  • Mammals / virology
  • Pandemics*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics*
  • Reassortant Viruses / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / chemistry
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / physiology
  • Zoonoses


  • RNA, Viral
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2