Published on Mon Jun 21 2021

One viral sequence for each host? - The neglected within-host diversity as the main stage of SARS-CoV-2 evolution

Ruan, Y., Hou, M., Li, J., Song, Y., Wang, H.-Y., Zeng, H., Lu, J., Wen, H., Chen, C., Wu, C.-I.

The global SARS-CoV-2 population is a meta-population consisting of the viruses in all the infected hosts, each of which harboring a genetically diverse sub-population. The early detection of such diversity in multiple hosts could be an alarm for potentially dangerous mutations.

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Abstract

The standard practice of presenting one viral sequence for each infected individual implicitly assumes low within-host genetic diversity. It places the emphasis on the viral evolution between, rather than within, hosts. To determine this diversity, we collect SARS-CoV-2 samples from the same patient multiple times. Our own data in conjunction with previous reports show that two viral samples collected from the same individual are often very different due to the substantial within-host diversity. Each sample captures only a small part of the total diversity that is transiently and locally released from infected cells. Hence, the global SARS-CoV-2 population is a meta-population consisting of the viruses in all the infected hosts, each of which harboring a genetically diverse sub-population. Advantageous mutations must be present first as the within-host diversity before they are revealed as between-host polymorphism. The early detection of such diversity in multiple hosts could be an alarm for potentially dangerous mutations. In conclusion, the main forces of viral evolution, i.e., mutation, drift, recombination and selection, all operate within hosts and should be studied accordingly. Several significant implications are discussed.