Rapid Evolution of SARS-CoV-2 Challenges Human Defenses

Evolutionary ecology theory provides an avenue to anticipate the future behavior of SARS-CoV-2. 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 believed to determine infectivity. We estimate that 384 million people were infected by March 1st, 2021, producing up to 10 21 copies of the virus, with one new RBD variant appearing for every 600,000 human infections, resulting in approximately three new effective RBD variants produced daily. Doubling the number of RBD variants every 71.67 days followed by selection of the most infective variants challenges our defenses and calls for a shift to anticipatory, rather than reactive tactics. One-Sentence Summary Accelerating evolution of SARS-CoV-2 demands formulating universal vaccines and treatments based on big-data simulations of possible new variants.

Duarte, C. M., Ketcheson, D., Eguíluz, V. M., Agustí, S., Fernández-Gracia, J., Jamil, T., … Alam, I. (2021). Rapid Evolution of SARS-CoV-2 Challenges Human Defenses. doi:10.1101/2021.03.27.437300

This research was funded by King Abdullah University of Science and technology through research made available to the Computational BioScience Research Center, CMD and TG.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory


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