SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequencing has played an important role in documenting the emergence of polymorphisms in the viral genome and its continuing evolution during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chan, et al. (2022) present data from more than 360 patients to characterize the complex sequence diversity of individual infections identified during multiple variant surges (e.g., Alpha and Delta).
Across their survey, the researchers observed significantly increasing SARS-CoV-2 sequence diversity during the pandemic and frequent occurrence of multiple biallelic sequence polymorphisms in all infections. This sequence polymorphism shows that SARS-CoV-2 infections are heterogeneous mixtures. Convention for reporting microbial pathogens guides investigators to report a majority consensus sequence. In our study, we found that this approach would under-report sequence variation in all samples tested.
The researchers observe, "As we find that this sequence heterogeneity is efficiently transmitted from donors to recipients, our findings illustrate that infection complexity must be monitored and reported more completely to understand SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission dynamics. Many of the nucleotide changes that would not be reported in a majority consensus sequence have now been observed as lineage defining SNPs in Omicron BA.1 and/or BA.2 variants. This suggests that minority alleles in earlier SARS-CoV-2 infections may play an important role in the continuing evolution of new variants of concern."
Reference: Chan ER, et al. COVID-19 infection and transmission includes complex sequence diversity. PLOS Genetics. Sept. 8, 2022 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1010200