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Journal article Open Access

SARS-CoV-2 variants combining spike mutations and the absence of ORF8 may be more transmissible and require close monitoring

Filipe Pereira

The SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern 202012/01 (VOC-202012/01) emerged in southeast England and rapidly spread worldwide. This variant is believed to be more transmissible, with all attention being given to its spike mutations. However, VOC-202012/01 has also a mutation (Q27stop) that truncates the ORF8, a likely immune evasion protein. Removal of ORF8 changes the clinical outset of the disease, which may affect the virus transmissibility. Here I provide a detailed analysis of all reported ORF8-deficient lineages found in the background of relevant spike mutations, identified among 231,433 SARS-CoV-2 genomes. I found 19 ORF8 nonsense mutations, most of them occurring in the 5’ half of the gene. The ORF8-deficient lineages were rare, representing 0.67% of sequenced genomes. Nevertheless, I identified two clusters of related sequences that emerged recently and spread in different countries. The widespread D614G spike mutation was found in most ORF-deficient lineages. Although less frequent, HV69-70del and L5F spike mutations occurred in the background of six different ORF8 nonsense mutations. I also confirmed that VOC-202012/01 is the ORF8-deficient variant with more spike mutations reported to date, although other variants could have up to six spike mutations, some of putative biological relevance. Overall, these results suggest that monitoring ORF8-deficient lineages is important for the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when associated with relevant spike mutations.

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