SARS-CoV-2 within-host diversity and transmission

Oxford Virus Sequencing Analysis Group (OVSG), COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, Katrina A. Lythgoe*, Matthew Hall, Luca Ferretti, Mariateresa de Cesare, George MacIntyre-Cockett, Amy Trebes, Monique Andersson, Newton Otecko, Emma L. Wise, Nathan Moore, Jessica Lynch, Stephen Kidd, Nicholas Cortes, Matilde Mori, Rebecca Williams, Gabrielle Vernet, Anita Justice, Angie GreenSamuel M. Nicholls, M. Azim Ansari, Lucie Abeler-Dörner, Catrin E. Moore, Timothy E.A. Peto, David W. Eyre, Robert Shaw, Peter Simmonds, David Buck, John A. Todd, Thomas R. Connor, Shirin Ashraf, Ana da Silva Filipe, James Shepherd, Emma C. Thomson, David Bonsall, Christophe Fraser, Tanya Golubchik, Matthew Bashton, Andrew Nelson, Darren Smith, Greg Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Extensive global sampling and sequencing of the pandemic virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have enabled researchers to monitor its spread and to identify concerning new variants. Two important determinants of variant spread are how frequently they arise within individuals and how likely they are to be transmitted. To characterize within-host diversity and transmission, we deep-sequenced 1313 clinical samples from the United Kingdom. SARS-CoV-2 infections are characterized by low levels of within-host diversity when viral loads are high and by a narrow bottleneck at transmission. Most variants are either lost or occasionally fixed at the point of transmission, with minimal persistence of shared diversity, patterns that are readily observable on the phylogenetic tree. Our results suggest that transmission-enhancing and/or immune-escape SARS-CoV-2 variants are likely to arise infrequently but could spread rapidly if successfully transmitted.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabg0821
Number of pages12
JournalScience
Volume372
Issue number6539
Early online date9 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2021

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