Authors: Lauren Brinkac, Noblis; Sheila Diepold, Tetracore; Shane Mitchell, Noblis; Stephanie Sarnese, Tetracore; Lee F. Kolakowski, Tetracore; William M. Nelson, Tetracore and Katharine Jennings, Noblis
Abstract Background: The SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant was first identified in the U.S. in March 2021 and has rapidly become the predominant lineage across the U.S. due to increased transmissibility, immune evasion and vaccine breakthrough. The aim of this study was to better understand the genetic diversity and the potential impact of mutations observed in SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the U.S. in vaccinated individuals.
Results: Whole genome sequencing was performed on thirty-four SARS-CoV-2 positive samples using the Oxford Nanopore MinION. Evolutionary genomic analysis revealed two novel mutations, ORF1b:V2354F and a premature stop codon, ORF7a:Q94*, identified in a cluster of SARS-CoV-2 Delta isolates collected from vaccinated individuals in Colorado. The ORF1b:V2354F mutation, corresponding to NSP15:V303F, may induce a conformational change and result in a disruption to a flanking beta-sheet structure. The premature stop codon, ORF7a:Q94*, truncates the transmembrane protein and cytosolic tail used to mediate protein transport. This may affect protein localization to the ER-Golgi. In addition to these novel mutations, the cluster of vaccinated isolates contain an additional mutation in the spike protein, at position 112, compared to the Delta variant defining mutations. This mutation, S112L, exists in isolates previously obtained in the U.S. The S112L mutation substitutes a bulky hydrophobic side chain for a polar side chain, which results in a non-conservative substitution within the protein that may affect antibody-binding affinity. Additionally, the vaccinated cluster of isolates contains non-synonymous mutations within ORF8 and NSPs which further distinguish this cluster from the respective ancestral Delta variant.
Conclusions: These results show there is an emerging sub-lineage of the ancestral Delta variant circulating in the U.S. As mutations emerge in constellations, those with a potentially beneficial advantage to the virus may continue to circulate while others will cease.
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