Controlling the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic becomes increasingly challenging as the virus adapts to human hosts through the continual emergence of more transmissible variants. Simply observing that a variant is increasing in frequency is relatively straightforward, but more sophisticated methodology is needed to determine whether a new variant is a global threat and the magnitude of its selective advantage. We present two models for quantifying the strength of selection for new and emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 relative to the background of contemporaneous variants. These methods range from a detailed model of dynamics within one country to a broad analysis across all countries, and they include alternative explanations such as migration and drift. We find evidence for strong selection favoring the D614G spike mutation and B.1.1.7 (Alpha), weaker selection favoring B.1.351 (Beta), and no advantage of R.1 after it spreads beyond Japan. Cutting back data to earlier time horizons reveals that uncertainty is large very soon after emergence, but that estimates of selection stabilize after several weeks. Our results also show substantial heterogeneity among countries, demonstrating the need for a truly global perspective on the molecular epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2.

Fuente: Nature Communications

Published: 14 December 2021