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Mutation landscape of SARS-CoV-2 reveals five mutually exclusive clusters of leading and trailing single nucleotide substitutions

By Akhilesh Mishra, Ashutosh Kumar Pandey, Parul Gupta, Prashant Pradhan, Sonam Dhamija, James Gomes, Bishwajit Kundu, Perumal Vivekanandan, Manoj B. Menon

Posted 12 May 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.07.082768

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the globe at an alarming rate. However, unlike any of the previous global outbreaks the availability of a large number of SARS-CoV-2 sequences provides us with a unique opportunity to understand viral evolution in real time. We analysed 1448 full-length (>29000 nt) sequences available and identified 40 single-nucleotide substitutions occurring in >1% of the genomes. Majority of the substitutions were C to T or G to A. We identify C/Gs with an upstream TTT trinucleotide motif as hotspots for mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome. Interestingly, three of the 40 substitutions occur within highly conserved secondary structures in the 5’ and 3’ regions of the genomic RNA that are critical for the virus life cycle. Furthermore, clustering analysis revealed unique geographical distribution of SARS-CoV-2 variants defined by their mutation profile. Of note, we observed several co-occurring mutations that almost never occur individually. We define five mutually exclusive lineages (A1, B1, C1, D1 and E1) of SARS-CoV-2 which account for about three quarters of the genomes analysed. We identify lineage-defining leading mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome which precede the occurrence of sub-lineage defining trailing mutations. The identification of mutually exclusive lineage-defining mutations with geographically restricted patterns of distribution has potential implications for diagnosis, pathogenesis and vaccine design. Our work provides novel insights on the temporal evolution of SARS-CoV-2. Importance The SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic has spread far and wide with high infectivity. However, the severeness of the infection as well as the mortality rates differ greatly across different geographic areas. Here we report high frequency mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genomes which show the presence of linage-defining, leading and trailing mutations. Moreover, we propose for the first time, five mutually exclusive clusters of SARS-CoV-2 which account for 75% of the genomes analysed. This will have implications in diagnosis, pathogenesis and vaccine design ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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