Erik Scott Wright, Seema S Lakdawala, Vaughn S Cooper
The set of mutations observed at the outset of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may illuminate how the virus will adapt to humans as it continues to spread. Viruses are expected to quickly acquire beneficial mutations upon jumping to a new host species. Advantageous nucleotide substitutions can be identified by their parallel occurrence in multiple independent lineages and are likely to result in changes to protein sequences. Here we show that SARS-CoV-2 is acquiring mutations more slowly than expected for neutral evolution, suggesting purifying selection is the dominant mode of evolution during the initial phase of the pandemic. However, several parallel mutations arose in multiple independent lineages and may provide a fitness advantage over the ancestral genome. We propose plausible reasons for several of the most frequent mutations. The absence of mutations in other genome regions suggests essential components of SARS-CoV-2 that could be the target of drug development. Overall this study provides genomic insights into how SARS-CoV-2 has adapted and will continue to adapt to humans.