In December 2019, the world awoke to a new betacoronavirus strain named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). Betacoronavirus consists of A, B, C and D subgroups. Both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 belong to betacoronavirus subgroup B. In the present study, we divided betacoronavirus subgroup B into the SARS1 and SARS2 classes by six key insertions and deletions (InDels) in betacoronavirus genomes, and identified a recently detected betacoronavirus strains RmYN02 as a recombinant strain across the SARS1 and SARS2 classes, which has potential to generate a new strain with similar risk as SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. By analyzing genomic features of betacoronavirus, we concluded: (1) the jumping transcription and recombination of CoVs share the same molecular mechanism, which inevitably causes CoV outbreaks; (2) recombination, receptor binding abilities, junction furin cleavage sites (FCSs), first hairpins and ORF8s are main factors contributing to extraordinary transmission, virulence and host adaptability of betacoronavirus; and (3) the strong recombination ability of CoVs integrated other main factors to generate multiple recombinant strains, two of which evolved into SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, resulting in the SARS and COVID-19 pandemics. As the most important genomic features of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, an enhanced ORF8 and a novel junction FCS, respectively, are indispensable clues for future studies of their origin and evolution. The WIV1 strain without the enhanced ORF8 and the RaTG13 strain without the junction FCS “RRAR” may contribute to, but are not the immediate ancestors of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, respectively.
- furin cleavage site