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SW Long, RJ Olsen, PA Christensen, DW Bernard, JJ Davis, M Shukla, M Nguyen, MO Saavedra, P Yerramilli, L Pruitt, S Subedi, HC Kuo, H Hendrickson, G Eskandari, HAT Nguyen, JH Long, M Kumaraswami, J Goike, D Boutz, J Gollihar, JS McLellan, CW Chou, K Javanmardi, IJ Finkelstein and J Musser
Abstract
We sequenced the genomes of 5,085 SARS-CoV-2 strains causing two COVID-19 disease waves in metropolitan Houston, Texas, an ethnically diverse region with seven million residents. The genomes were from viruses recovered in the earliest recognized phase of the pandemic in Houston, and an ongoing massive second wave of infections. The virus was originally introduced into Houston many times independently. Virtually all strains in the second wave have a Gly614 amino acid replacement in the spike protein, a polymorphism that has been linked to increased transmission and infectivity. Patients infected with the Gly614 variant strains had significantly higher virus loads in the nasopharynx on initial diagnosis. We found little evidence of a significant relationship between virus genotypes and altered virulence, stressing the linkage between disease severity, underlying medical conditions, and host genetics. Some regions of the spike protein - the primary target of global vaccine efforts - are replete with amino acid replacements, perhaps indicating the action of selection. We exploited the genomic data to generate defined single amino acid replacements in the receptor binding domain of spike protein that, importantly, produced decreased recognition by the neutralizing monoclonal antibody CR30022. Our study is the first analysis of the molecular architecture of SARS-CoV-2 in two infection waves in a major metropolitan region. The findings will help us to understand the origin, composition, and trajectory of future infection waves, and the potential effect of the host immune response and therapeutic maneuvers on SARS-CoV-2 evolution.
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