In many epidemic/pandemic situations, a lot of time the pathogen in question will mutate. For reference, this is the definition of mutation taken from Wiki:-

A mutation is an alteration in the nucleotide sequence of the genome of an organism, virus, or extrachromosomal DNA. Mutations result from errors during DNA replication, mitosis, and meiosis or other types of damage to DNA (such as pyrimidine dimers that may be caused by exposure to radiation or carcinogens), which then may undergo error-prone repair (especially microhomology-mediated end joining) or cause an error during other forms of repair or else may cause an error during replication

So my question is,

1》What is the probablity of SARS-CoV-2 mutating?

2》 How can we predict, in advance the mutation of the virus? (Maybe by studying the environmental factors of a specific place)

3》Lastly (something that makes the biologist cringe) is there any way to prevent mutation? Any way at all to somehow limit the mutations which can be used widely?

BTW I am not a biologist, only a person among the millions out there, trying to find a way to help prevent the spread of the disease. My aim is to somehow use ML with Covid data to predict mutations (if possible...)

  • $\begingroup$ Please use the correct terminology: Covid is the disease caused by the virus, which is correctly named SARS-CoV-2. The disease itself cannot mutate. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris Agreed. I thought the terminology was used so widely that I forgot that they weren't inter-replacable... $\endgroup$
    – neel g
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 6:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ HIV is a virus. AIDS is the disease caused by HIV. No one says AIDS mutates. Not to be a jerk about it, but the terminology you choose is important. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ biology.stackexchange.com/a/92213/5075 $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 7:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Although @Chris has sorted out the misconceptions you have as a non-biologist, I would point you to authoritative sources of information about the virus and epidemic that are listed on Meta, in case you did not see the banner. We would all like to do our bit in the current circumstances, but you should realize that there are thousands of elite experienced professional scientists of all types working in this area. You might wish to find out what they are doing. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 8:37

1 Answer 1


I don't see how you want to prevent mutations - and these don't have to be a bad thing as the mutation of SARS (the original one from 2003) shows, here the mutation (or better the deletion of a part of the viral genome) led to an antenuated pathogenic virus. Since this mutation happened in the early phase of the spreading, it became the major virus. See reference 1.

Mutations are a statistical process which happens all the time, especially for RNA viruse due to errors in the polymerases (see reference 2). So the answer to your first question would be: 100%. It is mutating, which can also be seen in the sequences which have been published so far. The differences are only minimal with a sequence homology between 99.91 and 100% (see reference 3), but this can already lead to changes in the amino acid sequence. You can see this in the screenshot from phylogenetic tree of all sequenced SARS-CoV-2 viruses on [Nextstrain] (see the site for the actual development):

enter image description here

To your question 2: You cannot really predict where mutations happen and which will come through in the long time, as this is a statistical process and the sheer number of viruses around in each infected patient. But there are positions which are more prone to mutations, while mutations at other parts of the sequence will lead to much less fit virus. There is not so much data available yet (remember that this virus is only around since the end of last year), but reference 3 has some data on it (figure 3):

enter image description here

Question 3: I don't see how this should happen, as this involves the polymerases which are involved in replication.


  1. Attenuation of replication by a 29 nucleotide deletion in SARS-coronavirus acquired during the early stages of human-to-human transmission
  2. Why are RNA virus mutation rates so damn high?
  3. The establishment of reference sequence for SARS‐CoV‐2 and variation analysis
  4. On the origin and continuing evolution of SARS-CoV-2
  • $\begingroup$ @reuns Good idea, I missed that site. Thanks for the notification. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 10:41

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