SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Amplification and Sequencing for Effective Population-Based Surveillance and Control of Viral Transmission

DIvinlal Harilal, Sathishkumar Ramaswamy, Tom Loney, Hanan Al Suwaidi, Hamda Khansaheb, Abdulmajeed Alkhaja, Rupa Varghese, Zulfa Deesi, Norbert Nowotny, Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, Ahmad Abou Tayoun*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Background: With the gradual reopening of economies and resumption of social life, robust surveillance mechanisms should be implemented to control the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike RT-qPCR, SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequencing (cWGS) has the added advantage of identifying cryptic origins of the virus, and the extent of community-based transmissions versus new viral introductions, which can in turn influence public health policy decisions. However, the practical and cost considerations of cWGS should be addressed before it is widely implemented. Methods: We performed shotgun transcriptome sequencing using RNA extracted from nasopharyngeal swabs of patients with COVID-19, and compared it to targeted SARS-CoV-2 genome amplification and sequencing with respect to virus detection, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. To track virus origin, we used open-source multiple sequence alignment and phylogenetic tools to compare the assembled SARS-CoV-2 genomes to publicly available sequences. Results: We found considerable improvement in whole genome sequencing data quality and viral detection using amplicon-based target enrichment of SARS-CoV-2. With enrichment, more than 99% of the sequencing reads mapped to the viral genome, compared to an average of 0.63% without enrichment. Consequently, an increase in genome coverage was obtained using substantially less sequencing data, enabling higher scalability and sizable cost reductions. We also demonstrated how SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences can be used to determine their possible origin through phylogenetic analysis including other viral strains. Conclusions: SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequencing is a practical, cost-effective, and powerful approach for population-based surveillance and control of viral transmission in the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1450-1458
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Chemistry
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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