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A new study found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, jumped from bats to humans without major changes.

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Schematic of the proposed evolutionary history of the nCoV clade and the estimated events leading to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. Credits: MacLean OA, et al. (2021), natural selection in the evolution of the bat SARS-CoV-2 produced a generalist virus and a highly competent human pathogen. PLoS Biol 19 (3): e3001115. CC-BY

How much did SARS-CoV-2 need to be modified to adapt to the new human host? Research articles published in the open access journal PLOS Biology Oscar MacLean, the University of Glasgow Spyros Lytras, and colleagues show that there was little after December 2019 and during the first 11 months of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. “Significant” genetic alterations observed in increasingly hundreds of thousands of sequenced viral genomes.

This study is a collaborative study between researchers in the United Kingdom, the United States and Belgium. Lead authors Professor David L Robertson (MRC-Center for Virus Research, University of Glasgow, Scotland) and Professor Sergei Pond (Institute of Genomic Evolutionary Medicine, Temple University, Philadelphia) have been able to change the experience of data analysis. From HIV and other viruses to SARS-CoV-2. HyPhy, Pond’s state-of-the-art analytical framework, helps elicit signs of evolution embedded in the viral genome and is based on decades of theoretical knowledge of molecular evolutionary processes.

Lead author Dr. Oscar McLean said, “This does not mean that no changes have occurred, but that evolutionarily insignificant mutations have accumulated and, like all viruses, millions of transmission events. “Surfing” along. ” Some changes may affect you. For example, spike substitution D614G, which has been shown to enhance transmissibility, and other specific tweaks of viral biology scattered throughout its genome. But overall, the “neutral” evolutionary process dominated. McLean said, “This stagnation may be due to the highly sensitive nature of the human population to this new pathogen, due to limited immunity pressure from the population and lack of containment. It leads to exponential growth and almost every virus wins. “

The pond commented as follows. “What is very surprising is how infectious SARS-CoV-2 was from the beginning. Viruses that jump to new host species are usually as capable as SARS-CoV-2 when spreading. It takes time to obtain adaptation, and in most cases it does not go beyond that stage, resulting in a dead end spillover effect or local outbreak. “

When studying the mutation process of SARS-CoV-2 and the associated salvecovirus (a group of viruses in which SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the bats and pangolins), the authors found evidence of a fairly significant change. , All before the advent of SARS-CoV-. 2 for humans. This means that the “generalist” nature of many coronaviruses and their apparent ability to jump between hosts has imbued SARS-CoV-2 with a ready-made ability to infect humans and other mammals. However, these traits probably evolved in bats before they spread to humans.

Spyros Lytras, co-lead author and PhD student, adds: “Interestingly, one of the closer bat viruses, RmYN02, has an interesting genomic structure composed of both SARS-CoV-2-like and bat-virus-like segments. Has both different compositional characteristics (related to the action of the host’s antiviral immunity) and supports this change in the pace of evolution that took place in bats without the need for intermediate animal species.

Robertson commented: “The reason for the SARS-CoV-2’gear shift’in terms of increased evolutionary rate at the end of 2020, associated with more highly mutated strains, has changed the immunological profile of the population. “With the current high number of previously infected people, the virus is in increasing contact with existing host immunity towards the end of 2020, which can dodge part of the host’s response. Variants that can be selected. These new selective pressures, coupled with immune avoidance in long-term infections in chronic cases (eg, immunocompromised patients), are increasing the number of significant viral variants.

It is important to understand that SARS-CoV-2 is still an acute virus and is eliminated by the immune response of the majority of infectious diseases. However, it is currently rapidly transitioning from the January 2020 variant used in all current vaccines to boost protective immunity. Current vaccines continue to work for most of the circulating mutants, but the longer the elapsed time and the greater the difference between the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, the greater the vaccine. You will have more chances to escape. Robertson adds: “The first race was to develop a vaccine. The competition now is to vaccinate people around the world as soon as possible.”

Reference: Oscar A. McLean, Spyros Lightras, Stephen Weaver, Joshua B. Singer, Machey F. Boni, Philippe Remei, “Natural selection in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in bats is highly competent with generalist viruses. Produced human pathogens, “Sergei L. Kosakovsky Pond and David L. Robertson, March 12, 2021, PLOS Biology.DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pbio.3001115

Funding: The DLR is funded by the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_1201412) and the Wellcome Trust (220977 / Z / 20 / Z). OAM is funded by Wellcome Trust (206369 / Z / 17 / Z). SLKP and SW are partially supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01 AI134384 (NIH / NIAID)) and the National Science Foundation (Prize 2027196). PL is the Welcome Trust through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program (Grant Agreement No. 725422-ReservoirDOCS), the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Project MOOD (874850), Project 206298 / Z / 17 /. Funding from the European Union based on. Z (Artic Network) and Research Foundation — Flanders (`Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek — Vlaanderen’, G066215N, G0D5117N and G0B9317N). The MFB is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (INV-005517) and by the NIH / NIAID Center of Excellence (HHS N272201400007C) in an influenza research and surveillance contract. The funder was not involved in study design, data collection and analysis, publication decisions, or manuscript preparation.

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