High viral transmission in the COVID-19 pandemic has enabled SARS-CoV-2 to acquire new mutations that may impact genome sequencing methods. The ARTIC.v3 primer pool that amplifies short amplicons in a multiplex-PCR reaction is one of the most widely used methods for sequencing the SARS-CoV-2 genome. We observed that some genomic intervals are poorly captured with ARTIC primers. To improve the genomic coverage and variant detection across these intervals, we designed long amplicon primers and evaluated the performance of a short (ARTIC) plus long amplicon (MRL) sequencing approach. Sequencing assays were optimized on VR-1986D-ATCC RNA followed by sequencing of nasopharyngeal swab specimens from fifteen COVID-19 positive patients. ARTIC data covered 94.47% of the virus genome fraction in the positive control and patient samples. Variant analysis in the ARTIC data detected 217 mutations, including 209 single nucleotide variants (SNVs) and eight insertions & deletions. On the other hand, long-amplicon data detected 156 mutations, of which 80% were concordant with ARTIC data. Combined analysis of ARTIC + MRL data improved the genomic coverage to 97.03% and identified 214 high confidence mutations. The combined final set of 214 mutations included 203 SNVs, 8 deletions and 3 insertions. Analysis showed 26 SARS-CoV-2 lineage defining mutations including 4 known variants of concern K417N, E484K, N501Y, P618H in spike gene. Hybrid analysis identified 7 nonsynonymous and 5 synonymous mutations across the genome that were either ambiguous or not called in ARTIC data. For example, G172V mutation in the ORF3a protein and A2A mutation in Membrane protein were missed by the ARTIC assay. Thus, we show that while the short amplicon (ARTIC) assay provides good genomic coverage with high throughput, complementation of poorly captured intervals with long amplicon data can significantly improve SARS-CoV-2 genomic coverage and variant detection.
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