SARS-CoV-2 selection pressure increases – researchers predict 23 mutations per year


Frequent mutations of SARS-CoV-2 expected.

A German research team compared a representative selection of SARS-CoV-2 samples from German, European, and non-European genome sequences. Among other things, the aim of the study was to find out how high the potential of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is to form mutations.

Researchers at Jena University Hospital compared the SARS-CoV-2 genome from samples of COVID-19 sufferers from Thuringia with those from across Germany, Europe and worldwide. “The virus is changing, as is to be expected statistically: it is happily mutating away,” said research leader Dr. Christian Brandt, summarizing the study results, which were recently made available on the medical pre-publication server “medRxiv.”

Large-scale mutation comparison

The research group compared a representative selection of globally distributed SARS-CoV-2 viral lineages from around 10,000 fully sequenced coronavirus genomes provided by renowned scientists from around the world, including mutation lineages spread in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, which are suspected to have a higher infection potential and a weaker immune response.

Eight different SARS-CoV-2 variants in Germany.

As the researchers report, the genome of SARS-CoV-2 comprises about 30,000 bases and thus has the largest known genome of all RNA viruses. According to the research team, about 23 SARS-CoV-2 mutations per year are to be expected, resulting from errors in the constant copying of the virus’ genetic information. Currently, eight main lineages of SARS-CoV-2 could be detected in Germany, four of them in Thuringia. The variants spread in Great Britain, Brazil or South Africa and classified as more dangerous have not been detected in Thuringia at present.

Vaccination increases selection pressure

However, the scientists of the present study assume that it is only a matter of time before the high-frequency lineages also spread in Germany. The vaccination campaign that has begun also increases the selection pressure on the virus, which favors the mutation forms that can undermine immunization. “Given the current incidences, it is all the more important to have close molecular genetic monitoring of the infection process,” emphasizes Professor Dr. Mathias Pletz, Director of the Institute of Infectious Medicine and Hospital Hygiene at Jena University Hospital.

Elucidating coronavirus mutations in wastewater

Other research teams suggest analyzing wastewater to elucidate coronavirus mutations. Another recent study presents a new method that could detect coronavirus mutations in wastewater even before they are unmasked via clinical sequencing. For more information, see the article: COVID-19: Wastewater Investigations to Control SARS-CoV-2.


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