gms | German Medical Science

International Conference on SARS - one year after the (first) outbreak

08. - 11.05.2004, Lübeck

Molecular evolution of the SARS coronavirus


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  • corresponding author presenting/speaker Guoping Zhao - The Chinese SARS Molecular Epidemiology Consortium, Chinese National Human Genome Center at Shanghai (CHGCS), Shanghai, China

International Conference on SARS - one year after the (first) outbreak. Lübeck, 08.-11.05.2004. Düsseldorf, Köln: German Medical Science; 2004. Doc04sars2.01

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published: May 26, 2004

© 2004 Zhao.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.



Molecular epidemiology is becoming an effective tool to study the evolution of novel infectious agents causing emerging diseases [1] as well as to search their natural origins [2]. The foresight in saving specimens from the critical early stages of the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the analysis of epidemiology at the molecular level enabled us to reveal the strong adaptive selection pressures initially influencing the SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) genome during the 2002/2003 epidemic until a stable genotype that evolved to predominate during the latter part of the episode. Genotypes characteristic of each of the early, middle, and late phases of the epidemic were discovered, and the earliest genotypes were similar to those for the animal SARS-like coronaviruses (SARS-like CoV). Major deletions were observed in the Orf8 region of the genome, both at the start and the end of the epidemic. The neutral mutation rate of the viral genome was constant but the amino acid substitution rate of the coding sequences slowed during the course of the epidemic. The spike protein showed the strongest initial responses to positive selection pressures, followed by subsequent purifying selection and eventual stabilization [3]. The genomic sequences of both the human SARS-CoV and the palm civet SARS-like CoV isolated during the winter of 2003/2004 were further analyzed together with their epidemiological information and clinical features, which not only confirmed the animal origin of this disease episode but also provided new insight for the future in-depth study of the viral molecular evolution along the course of its host-switch.


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