Med Rev (Berl). 2022 Mar 1;2(1):3-22. doi: 10.1515/mr-2021-0035. eCollection 2022 Feb 1.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused immense losses in human lives and the global economy and posed significant challenges for global public health. As severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of COVID-19, has evolved, thousands of single nucleotide variants (SNVs) have been identified across the viral genome. The roles of individual SNVs in the zoonotic origin, evolution, and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 have become the focus of many studies. This review summarizes recent comparative genomic analyses of SARS-CoV-2 and related coronaviruses (SC2r-CoVs) found in non-human animals, including delineation of SARS-CoV-2 lineages based on characteristic SNVs. We also discuss the current understanding of receptor-binding domain (RBD) evolution and characteristic mutations in variants of concern (VOCs) of SARS-CoV-2, as well as possible co-evolution between RBD and its receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). We propose that the interplay between SARS-CoV-2 and host RNA editing mechanisms might have partially resulted in the bias in nucleotide changes during SARS-CoV-2 evolution. Finally, we outline some current challenges, including difficulty in deciphering the complicated relationship between viral pathogenicity and infectivity of different variants, and monitoring transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between humans and animals as the pandemic progresses.