Similarity between mutation spectra in hypermutated genomes of rubella virus and in SARS-CoV-2 genomes accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic
Genomes of tens of thousands of SARS-CoV2 isolates have been sequenced across the world and the total number of changes (predominantly single base substitutions) in these isolates exceeds ten thousand. We compared the mutational spectrum in the new SARS-CoV-2 mutation dataset with the previously published mutation spectrum in hypermutated genomes of rubella-another positive single stranded (ss) RNA virus. Each of the rubella virus isolates arose by accumulation of hundreds of mutations during
... mutations during propagation in a single subject, while SARS-CoV-2 mutation spectrum represents a collection events in multiple virus isolates from individuals across the world. We found a clear similarity between the spectra of single base substitutions in rubella and in SARS-CoV-2, with C to U as well as A to G and U to C being the most prominent in plus strand genomic RNA of each virus. Of those, U to C changes universally showed preference for loops versus stems in predicted RNA secondary structure. Similarly, to what was previously reported for rubella virus, C to U changes showed enrichment in the uCn motif, which suggested a subclass of APOBEC cytidine deaminase being a source of these substitutions. We also found enrichment of several other trinucleotide-centered mutation motifs only in SARS-CoV-2-likely indicative of a mutation process characteristic to this virus. Altogether, the results of this analysis suggest that the mutation mechanisms that lead to hypermutation of the rubella vaccine virus in a rare pathological condition may also operate in the background of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses currently propagating in the human population.