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In bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology

Identifying the population structure of the newly emerged coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has significant potential to inform public health management and diagnosis. As SARS-CoV-2 sequencing data accrued, grouping them into clusters is important for organizing the landscape of the population structure of the virus. Due to the limited prior information on the newly emerged coronavirus, we utilized four different clustering algorithms to group 16,873 SARS-CoV-2 strains, which automatically enables the identification of spatial structure for SARS-CoV-2. A total of six distinct genomic clusters were identified using mutation profiles as input features. Comparison of the clustering results reveals that the four algorithms produced highly consistent results, but the state-of-the-art unsupervised deep learning clustering algorithm performed best and produced the smallest intra-cluster pairwise genetic distances. The varied proportions of the six clusters within different continents revealed specific geographical distributions. In particular, our analysis found that Oceania was the only continent on which the strains were dispersively distributed into six clusters. In summary, this study provides a concrete framework for the use of clustering methods to study the global population structure of SARS-CoV-2. In addition, clustering methods can be used for future studies of variant population structures in specific regions of these fast-growing viruses.

Li Yawei, Liu Qingyun, Zeng Zexian, Luo Yuan