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Evolutionary trajectory of SARS-CoV-2 and emerging variants


The emergence of a novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and more recently, the independent evolution of multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants has generated renewed interest in virus evolution and cross-species transmission. While all known human coronaviruses (HCoVs) are speculated to have originated in animals, very little is known about their evolutionary history and factors that enable some CoVs to co-exist with humans as low pathogenic and endemic infections (HCoV-229E, HCoV-NL63, HCoV-OC43, HCoV-HKU1), while others, such as SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 have evolved to cause severe disease. In this review, we highlight the origins of all known HCoVs and map positively selected for mutations within HCoV proteins to discuss the evolutionary trajectory of SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, we discuss emerging mutations within SARS-CoV-2 and variants of concern (VOC), along with highlighting the demonstrated or speculated impact of these mutations on virus transmission, pathogenicity, and neutralization by natural or vaccine-mediated immunity.

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