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Abstract

SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have originated in the human population from a zoonotic spillover event. Infection in humans results in a variety of outcomes ranging from asymptomatic cases to the disease COVID-19, which can have significant morbidity and mortality, with over two million confirmed deaths worldwide as of January 2021. Over a year into the pandemic, sequencing analysis has shown that variants of SARS-CoV-2 are being selected as the virus continues to circulate widely within the human population. The predominant drivers of genetic variation within SARS-CoV-2 are single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) caused by polymerase error, potential host factor driven RNA modification, and insertion/deletions (indels) resulting from the discontinuous nature of viral RNA synthesis. While many mutations represent neutral ‘genetic drift’ or have quickly died out, a subset may be affecting viral traits such as transmissibility, pathogenicity, host range, and antigenicity of the virus. In this review, we summarise the current extent of genetic change in SARS-CoV-2, particularly recently emerging variants of concern, and consider the phenotypic consequences of this viral evolution that may impact the future trajectory of the pandemic.

Funding
This study was supported by the:
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Award BB/S008292/1)
    • Principle Award Recipient: WendyS. Barclay
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Award BB/K002465/1)
    • Principle Award Recipient: WendyS. Barclay
  • Wellcome Trust (Award 205100)
    • Principle Award Recipient: WendyS. Barclay
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Award 75F40120C00085)
    • Principle Award Recipient: JulianA. Hiscox
  • Medical Research Council (Award MR/N013840/1)
    • Principle Award Recipient: RebekahPenrice-Randal
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Award BB/R013071/1)
    • Principle Award Recipient: ThomasPhilip Peacock
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. This article was made open access via a Publish and Read agreement between the Microbiology Society and the corresponding author’s institution.
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2021-04-15
2022-01-21
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