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Journal: Infection, genetics and evolution : journal of molecular epidemiology and evolutionary genetics in infectious diseases


SARS-CoV-2 is a SARS-like coronavirus of likely zoonotic origin first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province. The virus has since spread globally, resulting in the currently ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first whole genome sequence was published on January 52,020, and thousands of genomes have been sequenced since this date. This resource allows unprecedented insights into the past demography of SARS-CoV-2 but also monitoring of how the virus is adapting to its novel human host, providing information to direct drug and vaccine design. We curated a dataset of 7666 public genome assemblies and analysed the emergence of genomic diversity over time. Our results are in line with previous estimates and point to all sequences sharing a common ancestor towards the end of 2019, supporting this as the period when SARS-CoV-2 jumped into its human host. Due to extensive transmission, the genetic diversity of the virus in several countries recapitulates a large fraction of its worldwide genetic diversity. We identify regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome that have remained largely invariant to date, and others that have already accumulated diversity. By focusing on mutations which have emerged independently multiple times (homoplasies), we identify 198 filtered recurrent mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome. Nearly 80% of the recurrent mutations produced non-synonymous changes at the protein level, suggesting possible ongoing adaptation of SARS-CoV-2. Three sites in Orf1ab in the regions encoding Nsp6, Nsp11, Nsp13, and one in the Spike protein are characterised by a particularly large number of recurrent mutations (>15 events) which may signpost convergent evolution and are of particular interest in the context of adaptation of SARS-CoV-2 to the human host. We additionally provide an interactive user-friendly web-application to query the alignment of the 7666 SARS-CoV-2 genomes.


The recently proposed Microbiome Mutiny Hypothesis posits that members of the human microbiome obtain information about the host individuals' health status and, when host survival is compromised, switch to an intensive exploitation strategy to maximize residual transmission. In animals and humans, sepsis is an acute systemic reaction to microbes invading the normally sterile body compartments. When induced by formerly mutualistic or neutral microbes, possibly in response to declining host health, sepsis appears to fit the ‘microbiome mutiny’ scenario except for its apparent failure to enhance transmission of the causative organisms. We propose that the ability of certain species of the microbiome to induce sepsis is not a fortuitous side effect of within-host replication, but rather it might, in some cases, be the result of their adaptive evolution. Whenever host health declines, inducing sepsis can be adaptive for those members of the healthy human microbiome that are capable of colonizing the future cadaver and spread by cadaver-borne transmission. We hypothesize that such microbes might exhibit switches along the ‘mutualist - lethal pathogen - decomposer - mutualist again’ scenario, implicating a previously unsuspected, surprising level of phenotypic plasticity. This hypothesis predicts that those species of the healthy microbiome that are recurring causative agents of sepsis can participate in the decomposition of cadavers, and can be transmitted as soil-borne or water-borne infections. Furthermore, in individual sepsis cases, the same microbial clones that dominate the systemic infection that precipitates sepsis, should also be present in high concentration during decomposition following death: this prediction is testable by molecular fingerprinting in experimentally induced animal models. Sepsis is a leading cause of human death worldwide. If further research confirms that some cases of sepsis indeed involve the ‘mutiny’ (facultative phenotypic switching) of normal members of the microbiome, then new strategies could be devised to prevent or treat sepsis by interfering with this process.

Concepts: Scientific method, Health, Natural selection, Bacteria, Evolution, Death, Species, Hypothesis


In less than five months, COVID-19 has spread from a small focus in Wuhan, China, to more than 5 million people in almost every country in the world, dominating the concern of most governments and public health systems. The social and political distresses caused by this epidemic will certainly impact our world for a long time to come. Here, we synthesize lessons from a range of scientific perspectives rooted in epidemiology, virology, genetics, ecology and evolutionary biology so as to provide perspective on how this pandemic started, how it is developing, and how best we can stop it.


A novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) associated with human to human transmission and severe human infection has been recently reported from the city of Wuhan in China. Our objectives were to characterize the genetic relationships of the 2019-nCoV and to search for putative recombination within the subgenus of sarbecovirus.


The French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793) was assassinated in 1793 in his bathtub, where he was trying to find relief from the debilitating skin disease he was suffering from. At the time of his death, Marat was annotating newspapers, which got stained with his blood and were subsequently preserved by his sister. We extracted and sequenced DNA from the blood stain and also from another section of the newspaper, which we used for comparison. Results from the human DNA sequence analyses were compatible with a heterogeneous ancestry of Marat, with his mother being of French origin and his father born in Sardinia. Metagenomic analyses of the non-human reads uncovered the presence of fungal, bacterial and low levels of viral DNA. Relying on the presence/absence of microbial species in the samples, we could cast doubt on several putative infectious agents that have been previously hypothesised as the cause of his condition but for which we detect not a single sequencing read. Conversely, some of the species we detect are uncommon as environmental contaminants and may represent plausible infective agents. Based on all the available evidence, we hypothesize that Marat may have suffered from a fungal infection (seborrheic dermatitis), possibly superinfected with bacterial opportunistic pathogens.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) was discovered in the early 1980s when the virus had already established a pandemic. For at least three decades the epidemic in the Western World has been dominated by subtype B infections, as part of a sub-epidemic that traveled from Africa through Haiti to United States. However, the pattern of the subsequent spread still remains poorly understood. Here we analyze a large dataset of globally representative HIV-1 subtype B strains to map their spread around the world over the last 50years and describe significant spread patterns. We show that subtype B travelled from North America to Western Europe in different occasions, while Central/Eastern Europe remained isolated for the most part of the early epidemic. Looking with more detail in European countries we see that the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland exchanged viral isolates with non-European countries than with European ones. The observed pattern is likely to mirror geopolitical landmarks in the post-World War II era, namely the rise and the fall of the Iron Curtain and the European colonialism. In conclusion, HIV-1 spread through specific migration routes which are consistent with geopolitical factors that affected human activities during the last 50years, such as migration, tourism and trade. Our findings support the argument that epidemic control policies should be global and incorporate political and socioeconomic factors.

Concepts: Europe, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Western world, Central Europe, Cold War, World War II, Iron Curtain


COVID-19 is a viral respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The World Health Organization declared the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak a global public health emergency. We performed genetic analyses of eighty-six complete or near-complete genomes of SARS-CoV-2 and revealed many mutations and deletions on coding and non-coding regions. These observations provided evidence of the genetic diversity and rapid evolution of this novel coronavirus.


Leprosy continues to be detected at near stable rates in China even with established control programs, necessitating new knowledge and alternative methods to interrupt transmission. A molecular epidemiology investigation of 190 patients was undertaken to define M. leprae strain types and discern genetic relationships and clusters in endemic and non-endemic regions spanning seventeen provinces and two autonomous regions. The findings support multiple locus variable number of tandem repeat (VNTR) analysis as a useful tool in uncovering characteristic patterns across the multiethnic and divergent geographic landscape of China. Several scenarios of clustering of leprosy from township to provincial to regional levels were recognized, while recent occupational or remote migration showed geographical separation of certain strains. First, prior studies indicated that of the four major M. leprae subtypes defined by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), only type 3 was present in China, purportedly entering from Europe/West/Central Asia via the Silk Road. However, this study revealed VNTR linked strains that are of type 1 in Guangdong, Fujian and Guangxi in southern China. Second, a subset of VNTR distinguishable strains of type 3, co-exist in these provinces. Third, type 3 strains with rpoT VNTR allele of 4, detected in Japan and Korea were discovered in Jiangsu and Anhui in the east and in western Sichuan bordering Tibet. Fourth, considering the overall genetic diversity, strains of endemic counties of Qiubei, Yunnan; Xing Yi, Guizhou; and across Sichuan in southwest were related. However, closer inspection showed distinct local strains and clusters. Altogether, these insights, primarily derived from VNTR typing, reveal multiple and overlooked paths for spread of leprosy into, within and out of China and invoke attention to historic maritime routes in the South and East China Sea. More importantly, new concepts and approaches for prospective case finding and tracking of leprosy from county to national level have been introduced.

Concepts: Single-nucleotide polymorphism, China, Yangtze River, Yunnan, Guangdong, Yuan Dynasty, East China Sea, Yi people


Poxviruses are widespread pathogens, which display extremely different host ranges. Whereas some poxviruses, including variola virus, display narrow host ranges, others such as cowpox viruses naturally infect a wide range of mammals. The molecular bases for differences in host range are poorly understood but apparently depend on the successful manipulation of the host antiviral response. Some poxvirus genes have been shown to confer host tropism in experimental settings and are thus called host range factors. Identified host range genes include vaccinia virus K1L, K3L, E3L, B5R, C7L and SPI-1, cowpox virus CP77/CHOhr, ectromelia virus p28 and 022, and myxoma virus T2, T4, T5, 11L, 13L, 062R and 063R. These genes encode for ankyrin repeat-containing proteins, tumor necrosis factor receptor II homologs, apoptosis inhibitor T4-related proteins, Bcl-2-related proteins, pyrin domain-containing proteins, cellular serine protease inhibitors (serpins), short complement-like repeats containing proteins, KilA-N/RING domain-containing proteins, as well as inhibitors of the double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase PKR. We conducted a systematic survey for the presence of known host range genes and closely related family members in poxvirus genomes, classified them into subgroups based on their phylogenetic relationship and correlated their presence with the poxvirus phylogeny. Common themes in the evolution of poxvirus host range genes are lineage-specific duplications and multiple independent inactivation events. Our analyses yield new insights into the evolution of poxvirus host range genes. Implications of our findings for poxvirus host range and virulence are discussed.

Concepts: Gene, Virus, Vaccination, Vaccinia, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Cowpox, Poxviruses


The population structure of Enterocytozoon bieneusi was examined by multilocus sequence typing (MLST) of 64 specimens from AIDS patients in Peru, Nigeria, and India and five specimens from captive baboons in Kenya using a combination of the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) and four microsatellite and minisatellite markers. Parasites in different geographic locations (Peru, India, and Nigeria) all had strong and significant linkage disequilibrium (LD) and only limited recombination, indicative of a clonal population structure in E. bieneusi from each location. When isolates of various geographical areas were treated as a single population, phylogenetic analysis and substructural analysis using STRUCTURE found no evidence for the existence of geographically segregated sub-populations. Nevertheless, both analyses revealed the presence of two major genetically isolated groups of E. bieneusi: one (sub-population 1) contained all isolates of the anthroponotic ITS genotype A, whereas the other (sub-population 2) harbored isolates of multiple ITS genotypes with zoonotic potential. This was also supported by F(ST) analysis. The measurement of LD and recombination rates indicated that sub-population 2 had a clonal population structure, whereas sub-population 1 had an epidemic population structure. The data confirmed the existence of genetic sub-populations in E. bieneusi that may be transmitted differently in humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Biology, Geography, Microsporidiosis