A Synthetic Biology Approach for Vaccine Candidate Design against Delta Strain of SARS-CoV-2 Revealed Disruption of Favored Codon Pair as a Better Strategy over Using Rare Codons
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Abstract: The SARS-CoV-2 delta variant (B.1.617.2) appeared for the first time in December 2020 and later spread worldwide. Currently available vaccines are not so efficacious in curbing the viral pathogenesis of the delta strain of COVID; therefore, the development of a safe and effective vaccine is required. In the present study, we envisaged molecular patterns in the structural genes’ spike, nucleoprotein, membrane, and envelope of the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant. The study was based on determining compositional features, dinucleotide odds ratio, synonymous codon usage, positive and negative codon contexts, rare codons, and insight into relatedness between the human host isoacceptor tRNA and preferred codons from the structural genes. We found specific patterns, including a significant abundance of T nucleotide over all other three nucleotides. The underrepresentation of GpA, GpG, CpC, and CpG dinucleotides and the overrepresentation of TpT, ApA, CpT, and TpG were observed. A preference towards ACT- (Thr), AAT- (Asn), TTT- (Phe), and TTG- (Leu) initiated codons and aversion towards CGG (Arg), CCG (Pro), and CAC (His) was present in the structural genes of the delta strain. The interaction between the host tRNA pool and preferred codons of the envisaged structural genes revealed that the virus preferred the codons for those suboptimal numbers of isoacceptor tRNA were present. We see this as a strategy adapted by the virus to keep the translation rate low to facilitate the correct folding of viral proteins. The information generated in the study helps design the attenuated vaccine candidate against the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant using a synthetic biology approach. Three strategies were tested: changing TpT to TpA, introducing rare codons, and disrupting favored codons. It found that disrupting favored codons is a better approach to reducing virus fitness and attenuating SARS-CoV-2 delta strain using structural genes.