Testing the hypothesis of a recombinant origin of the SARS-associated coronavirus

X W Zhang, Y L Yap, A Danchin
Archives of Virology 2005, 150 (1): 1-20
The origin of severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated corona-virus (SARS-CoV) is still a matter of speculation, although more than one year has passed since the onset of the SARS outbreak. In this study, we implemented a 3-step strategy to test the intriguing hypothesis that SARS-CoV might have been derived from a recombinant virus. First, we blasted the whole SARS-CoV genome against a virus database to search viruses of interest. Second, we employed 7 recombination detection techniques well documented in successfully detecting recombination events to explore the presence of recombination in SARS-CoV genome. Finally, we conducted phylogenetic analyses to further explore whether recombination has indeed occurred in the course of coronaviruses history predating the emergence of SARS-CoV. Surprisingly, we found that 7 putative recombination regions, located in Replicase 1ab and Spike protein, exist between SARS-CoV and other 6 coronaviruses: porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV), bovine coronavirus (BCoV), human coronavirus 229E (HCoV), murine hepatitis virus (MHV), and avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV). Thus, our analyses substantiate the presence of recombination events in history that led to the SARS-CoV genome. Like the other coronaviruses used in the analysis, SARS-CoV is also a mosaic structure.

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