Rapid evolution of SARS-CoV-2 challenges human defenses

Duarte, Carlos M; Ketcheson, David I; Eguíluz, Víctor M; Agustí, Susana; Fernández-Gracia, Juan; Jamil, Tahira; Laiolo, Elisa; Gojobori, Takashi; Alam, Intikhab
Scientific Reports 12, 1-8 (2022)

The race between pathogens and their hosts is a major evolutionary driver, where both reshuffle their genomes to overcome and reorganize the defenses for infection, respectively. Evolutionary theory helps formulate predictions on the future evolutionary dynamics of SARS-CoV-2, which can be monitored through unprecedented real-time tracking of SARS-CoV-2 population genomics at the global scale. Here we quantify the accelerating evolution of SARS-CoV-2 by tracking the SARS-CoV-2 mutation globally, with a focus on the Receptor Binding Domain (RBD) of the spike protein determining infection success. We estimate that the > 820 million people that had been infected by October 5, 2021, produced up to 1021 copies of the virus, with 12 new effective RBD variants appearing, on average, daily. Doubling of the number of RBD variants every 89 days, followed by selection of the most infective variants challenges our defenses and calls for a shift to anticipatory, rather than reactive tactics involving collaborative global sequencing and vaccination.

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