Scientific Reports

Analysis and forecasting of global real time RT-PCR primers and probes for SARS-CoV-2

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Rapid tests for active SARS-CoV-2 infections rely on reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). RT-PCR uses reverse transcription of RNA into complementary DNA (cDNA) and amplification of specific DNA (primer and probe) targets using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The technology makes rapid and specific identification of the virus possible based on sequence homology of nucleic acid sequence and is much faster than tissue culture or animal cell models. However the technique can lose sensitivity over time as the virus evolves and the target sequences diverge from the selective primer sequences. Different primer sequences have been adopted in different geographic regions. As we rely on these existing RT-PCR primers to track and manage the spread of the Coronavirus, it is imperative to understand how SARS-CoV-2 mutations, over time and geographically, diverge from existing primers used today. In this study, we analyze the performance of the SARS-CoV-2 primers in use today by measuring the number of mismatches between primer sequence and genome targets over time and spatially. We find that there is a growing number of mismatches, an increase by 2% per month, as well as a high specificity of virus based on geographic location.