The architecture of SARS-CoV-2 transcriptome

SARS-CoV-2 is a betacoronavirus that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The genome of SARS-CoV-2 was reported recently, but its transcriptomic architecture is unknown. Utilizing two complementary sequencing techniques, we here present a high-resolution map of the SARS-CoV-2 transcriptome and epitranscriptome.

DNA nanoball sequencing shows that the transcriptome is highly complex owing to numerous recombination events, both canonical and noncanonical. In addition to the genomic RNA and subgenomic RNAs common in all coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 produces a large number of transcripts encoding unknown ORFs with fusion, deletion, and/or frameshift.

Using nanopore direct RNA sequencing, we further find at least 41 RNA modification sites on viral transcripts, with the most frequent motif being AAGAA. Modified RNAs have shorter poly(A) tails than unmodified RNAs, suggesting a link between the internal modification and the 3′ tail. Functional investigation of the unknown ORFs and RNA modifications discovered in this study will open new directions to our understanding of the life cycle and pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2.

Authors: Dongwan Kim, Joo-Yeon Lee, Jeong-Sun Yang, Jun Won Kim, V. Narry Kim, Hyeshik Chang