A recent study by Tang et al. claimed that two major types of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (CoV-2) had evolved in the ongoing CoV disease-2019 pandemic and that one of these types was more ‘aggressive’ than the other. Given the repercussions of these claims and the intense media coverage of these types of articles, we have examined in detail the data presented by Tang et al., and show that the major conclusions of that paper cannot be substantiated. Using examples from other viral outbreaks, we discuss the difficulty in demonstrating the existence or nature of a functional effect of a viral mutation, and we advise against overinterpretation of genomic data during the pandemic.


This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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MacLean, O., Orton, R., Singer, J. & Robertson, D. 2020, 'No evidence for distinct types in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2', Virus Evolution, 6(1), article no: veaa034. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ve/veaa034

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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