New Pathways of Mutational Change in SARS-CoV-2 Proteomes Involve Regions of Intrinsic Disorder Important for Virus Replication and Release

Tre Tomaszewski, Ryan S. DeVries, Mengyi Dong, Gitanshu Bhatia, Miles D. Norsworthy, Xuying Zheng, Gustavo Caetano-Anollés

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The massive worldwide spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is fueling the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the first whole-genome sequence was published in January 2020, a growing database of tens of thousands of viral genomes has been constructed. This offers opportunities to study pathways of molecular change in the expanding viral population that can help identify molecular culprits of virulence and virus spread. Here we investigate the genomic accumulation of mutations at various time points of the early pandemic to identify changes in mutationally highly active genomic regions that are occurring worldwide. We used the Wuhan NC_045512.2 sequence as a reference and sampled 15 342 indexed sequences from GISAID, translating them into proteins and grouping them by month of deposition. The per-position amino acid frequencies and Shannon entropies of the coding sequences were calculated for each month, and a map of intrinsic disorder regions and binding sites was generated. The analysis revealed dominant variants, most of which were located in loop regions and on the surface of the proteins. Mutation entropy decreased between March and April of 2020 after steady increases at several sites, including the D614G mutation site of the spike (S) protein that was previously found associated with higher case fatality rates and at sites of the NSP12 polymerase and the NSP13 helicase proteins. Notable expanding mutations include R203K and G204R of the nucleocapsid (N) protein inter-domain linker region and G251V of the viroporin encoded by ORF3a between March and April. The regions spanning these mutations exhibited significant intrinsic disorder, which was enhanced and decreased by the N-protein and viroporin 3a protein mutations, respectively. These results predict an ongoing mutational shift from the spike and replication complex to other regions, especially to encoded molecules known to represent major β-interferon antagonists. The study provides valuable information for therapeutics and vaccine design, as well as insight into mutation tendencies that could facilitate preventive control.


  • Novel coronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)
  • 2019-nCoV
  • Pandemic
  • Nucleocapsid protein
  • spike protein
  • mutation
  • entropy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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