Shared SARS-CoV-2 diversity suggests localised transmission of minority variants
Lythgoe KA., Hall M., Ferretti L., de Cesare M., MacIntyre-Cockett G., Trebes A., Andersson M., Otecko N., Wise EL., Moore N., Lynch J., Kidd S., Cortes N., Mori M., Justice A., Green A., Ansari MA., Abeler-Dörner L., Moore CE., Peto TEA., Shaw R., Simmonds P., Buck D., Todd JA., Bonsall D., Fraser C., Golubchik T.
<jats:p>We gratefully acknowledge the UK COVID-19 Genomics Consortium (COG UK) for funding, and Public Health Wales / Cardiff University and MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research for making their COG-UK sequence data publicly available. COG-UK is supported by funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) part of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and Genome Research Limited, operating as the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The research was supported by the Wellcome Trust Core Award Grant Number 203141/Z/16/Z with funding from the NIHR Oxford BRC. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. We are deeply grateful to Robert Esnouf and the BMRC Research Computing team for unfailing assistance with computational infrastructure. We also thank Benjamin Carpenter and James Docker for assistance in the laboratory, and Lorne Lonie, Maria Lopopolo, Chris Allen, John Broxholme and the WHG high-throughput genomics team for sequencing and quality control. The HIV clone p92BR025.8 was obtained through the Centre For AIDS Reagents from Drs Beatrice Hahn and Feng Gao, and the UNAIDS Virus Network (courtesy of the NIH AIDS Research and Reference Reagent Program). KAL is supported by The Wellcome Trust and The Royal Society (107652/Z/15/Z). MH, LF, MdC, GMC, NO, LAD, DB, CF and TG are supported by Li Ka Shing Foundation funding awarded to CF. PS is supported by a Wellcome Investigator Award (WT103767MA).</jats:p><jats:sec><jats:title>Summary</jats:title><jats:p>SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, emerged in late 2019 causing a global pandemic, with the United Kingdom (UK) one of the hardest hit countries. Rapid sequencing and publication of consensus genomes have enabled phylogenetic analysis of the virus, demonstrating SARS-CoV-2 evolves relatively slowly<jats:sup>1</jats:sup>, but with multiple sites in the genome that appear inconsistent with the overall consensus phylogeny<jats:sup>2</jats:sup>. To understand these discrepancies, we used veSEQ<jats:sup>3</jats:sup>, a targeted RNA-seq approach, to quantify minor allele frequencies in 413 clinical samples from two UK locations. We show that SARS-CoV-2 infections are characterised by extensive within-host diversity, which is frequently shared among infected individuals with patterns consistent with geographical structure. These results were reproducible in data from two other sequencing locations in the UK, where we find evidence of mixed infection by major circulating lineages with patterns that cannot readily be explained by artefacts in the data. We conclude that SARS-CoV-2 diversity is transmissible, and propose that geographic patterns are generated by transient co-circulation of distinct viral populations. Co-transmission of mixed populations could open opportunities for resolving clusters of transmission and understanding pathogenesis.</jats:p></jats:sec>