Molecular Evolution of the SARS Coronavirus During the Course of the SARS Epidemic in China

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Science  12 Mar 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5664, pp. 1666-1669
DOI: 10.1126/science.1092002

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Sixty-one SARS coronavirus genomic sequences derived from the early, middle, and late phases of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic were analyzed together with two viral sequences from palm civets. Genotypes characteristic of each phase were discovered, and the earliest genotypes were similar to the animal SARS-like coronaviruses. 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.

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