Popa A, Genger JW, Nicholson MD, Penz T, Schmid D, Aberle SW, Agerer B, Lercher A, Endler L, Colaço H, Smyth M, Schuster M, Grau ML, Martínez-Jiménez F, Pich O, Borena W, Pawelka E, Keszei Z, Senekowitsch M, Laine J, Aberle JH, Redlberger-Fritz M, Karolyi M, Zoufaly A, Maritschnik S, Borkovec M, Hufnagl P, Nairz M, Weiss G, Wolfinger MT, von Laer D, Superti-Furga G, Lopez-Bigas N, Puchhammer-Stöckl E, Allerberger F, Michor F, Bock C, Bergthaler A. 2020. Genomic epidemiology of superspreading events in Austria reveals mutational dynamics and transmission properties of SARS-CoV-2. Science translational medicine. 12(573). Pubmed: 33229462 DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.abe2555


Superspreading events shaped the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and their rapid identification and containment are essential for disease control. Here, we provide a national-scale analysis of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) superspreading during the first wave of infections in Austria, a country that played a major role in initial virus transmissions in Europe. Capitalizing on Austria's well-developed epidemiological surveillance system, we identified major SARS-CoV-2 clusters during the first wave of infections and performed deep whole-genome sequencing of more than 500 virus samples. Phylogenetic-epidemiological analysis enabled the reconstruction of superspreading events and charts a map of tourism-related viral spread originating from Austria in spring 2020. Moreover, we exploited epidemiologically well-defined clusters to quantify SARS-CoV-2 mutational dynamics, including the observation of low-frequency mutations that progressed to fixation within the infection chain. Time-resolved virus sequencing unveiled viral mutation dynamics within individuals with COVID-19, and epidemiologically validated infector-infectee pairs enabled us to determine an average transmission bottleneck size of 10 SARS-CoV-2 particles. In conclusion, this study illustrates the power of combining epidemiological analysis with deep viral genome sequencing to unravel the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and to gain fundamental insights into mutational dynamics and transmission properties.
Copyright © 2020 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works. Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY).

Related Faculty

Photo of Franziska Michor

Franziska Michor uses the tools of theoretical evolutionary biology, applied mathematics, statistics, and computational biology to address important questions in cancer research.

Search Menu