Endonuclease fingerprint indicates a synthetic origin of SARS-CoV-2

October, 2022


To prevent future pandemics, it is important that we understand whether SARS-CoV-2 spilled over directly from animals to people, or indirectly in a laboratory accident. The genome of SARSCOV-2 contains a peculiar pattern of unique restriction endonuclease recognition sites allowing efficient dis- and re-assembly of the viral genome characteristic of synthetic viruses. Here, we report the likelihood of observing such a pattern in coronaviruses with no history of bioengineering. We find that SARS-CoV-2 is an anomaly, more likely a product of synthetic genome assembly than natural evolution. The restriction map of SARS-CoV-2 is consistent with many previously reported synthetic coronavirus genomes, meets all the criteria required for an efficient reverse genetic system, differs from closest relatives by a significantly higher rate of synonymous mutations in these synthetic-looking recognitions sites, and has a synthetic fingerprint unlikely to have evolved from its close relatives. We report a high likelihood that SARSCoV-2 may have originated as an infectious clone assembled in vitro.

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