Shotgun Transcriptome and Isothermal Profiling of SARS-CoV-2 Infection Reveals Unique Host Responses, Viral Diversification, and Drug Interactions

In less than nine months, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) killed over a million people, including >25,000 in New York City (NYC) alone. The COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 highlights clinical needs to detect infection, track strain evolution, and identify biomarkers of disease course. To address these challenges, we designed a fast (30-minute) colorimetric test (LAMP) for SARS-CoV-2 infection from naso/oropharyngeal swabs and a large-scale shotgun metatranscriptomics platform (total-RNA-seq) for host, viral, and microbial profiling. We applied these methods to clinical specimens gathered from 669 patients in New York City during the first two months of the outbreak, yielding a broad molecular portrait of the emerging COVID-19 disease. We find significant enrichment of a NYC-distinctive clade of the virus (20C), as well as host responses in interferon, ACE, hematological, and olfaction pathways. In addition, we use 50,821 patient records to find that renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system inhibitors have a protective effect for severe COVID-19 outcomes, unlike similar drugs. Finally, spatial transcriptomic data from COVID-19 patient autopsy tissues reveal distinct ACE2 expression loci, with macrophage and neutrophil infiltration in the lungs. These findings can inform public health and may help develop and drive SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic, prevention, and treatment strategies.