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Structural impact of synonymous mutations in six SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern


SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread and infect people worldwide. While most effort into characterizing variants of this virus have focused on non-synonymous changes, accumulation of synonymous mutations in different viral variants has also occurred. Here we characterize six Variants of Concern in terms of their mutational content, and make predictions regarding the impact of those mutations on potential genomic RNA secondary structure and stability. We find that synonymous mutations typically have no or modest impact to RNA secondary structure. As synonymous mutations are free from the selective pressure imposed on protein-altering mutations, the impact of synonymous mutations is largely limited to RNA secondary structure considerations. The absence of major, structure-altering synonymous mutations emphasize the importance of RNA structure, including within coding regions, to viral fitness.