The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in Australia by haplotype coalescence reveals a continental link to COVID-19 seasonality

Tre Tomaszewski, Volker Gurtler, Kelsey Caetano-Anollés, Gustavo Caetano-Anollés

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve, even after implementation of public-wide vaccination, as can be observed by an increasing number of mutations over time. Compared to responses by the United States and European countries, the disease mitigation strategies employed by the Australian government have been swift and effective. This provides a unique opportunity to study the emergence of variants of concern (VOCs) at many latitude levels in a country that has been able to control infection for the majority of the pandemic. In the present study, we explored the occurrence and accumulation of major mutations typical of VOCs in different regions of Australia and the effects that latitude has on the establishment of VOC-induced disease. We also studied the constellation of mutations characteristic of VOCs to determine if the mutation sets acted as haplotypes. Our goal was to explore processes behind the emergence of VOCs as the viral disease progresses towards becoming endemic. Most reported COVID-19 cases were in largest cities located within a –30°S to − 50°S latitude corridor previously identified to be associated with seasonal behavior. Accumulation plots of individual amino acid variants of major VOCs showed that the first major haplotypes reported worldwide were also present in Australia. A classification of accumulation plots revealed the existence of 18 additional haplotypes associated with VOCs alpha, delta and omicron. Core mutant constellations for these VOCs and curve overlaps for variants in each set of haplotypes demonstrated significant decoupling patterns, suggesting processes of emergence. Finally, construction of a “haplotype network” that describes the viral population landscape of Australia throughout the COVID-19 pandemic revealed significant and unanticipated seasonal patterns of emergence and diversification. These results provide a unique window into our evolutionary understanding of a human pathogen of great significance. They may guide future research into mitigation and prediction strategies for future VOCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCovid-19
Subtitle of host publicationBiomedical Perspectives
EditorsCharles S. Pavia, Charles S. Pavia, Volker Gurtler
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages36
ISBN (Print)9780323850612
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Publication series

NameMethods in Microbiology
ISSN (Print)0580-9517


  • Amino acid substitution
  • Epidemic calendar
  • Genetic diversity
  • Haplotype
  • Mutation
  • N-terminal domain
  • Proteome
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Seasonality
  • Variants of concern
  • Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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