BREAKING! COVID-19 News: Genomic Study Led By University Of California Indicates That Many Animal Species Vulnerable To SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus
: A new international genomic study led by researchers from the University of California-Davis alarmingly indicates that humans are not the only species facing a potential threat from SARS-CoV-2. The study team discovered that many of the 410 different species of vertebrates included in the study comprising birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals were vulnerable due to the presence of the main cellular receptor for the novel coronavirus known as ACE2 or angiotensin converting enzyme-2. These receptors are found typically in many different types of human cells and tissues, including epithelial cells in the nose, mouth, lungs and many other organs.
A new genomic research ranks the potential of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to bind to the ACE2 receptor site in 410 vertebrate animals. Old World primates and great apes, which have identical amino acids at the binding site as humans, are predicted to have a very high propensity for binding ACE2 and are likely susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Credit: Matt Verdolivo/UC Davis
The study findings were published in the journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/08/20/2010146117
In humans, 25 amino acids of the ACE2 protein are important for the virus to bind and gain entry into cells.
The study team used these 25 amino acid sequences of the ACE2 protein, and modeling of its predicted protein structure together with the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, to evaluate how many of these amino acids are found in the ACE2 protein of the different species.
Dr Joana Damas, first author for the paper and a postdoctoral research associate at University of California-Davis told Thailand Medical News, "Animals with all 25 amino acid residues matching the human protein are predicted to be at the highest risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 via ACE2. The risk is predicted to decrease the more the species' ACE2 binding residues differ from humans."
It was also found that about 40 percent of the species potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 are classified as "threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and may be especially vulnerable to human-to-animal transmission.
Dr Harris Lewin, lead author for the study and a distinguished Professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis said, "The data provide an important starting point for identifying vulnerable and threatened animal populations at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection. We hope it inspires practices that protect both animal and human health during the pandemic."
The study showed that several critically endangered primate species, such as the Western lowland gorilla, Sumatran orangutan and Northern white-cheeked gibbon, are predicted to be at very high risk of infection by SARS-CoV-2 via their ACE2 receptor.
In the study findings, other animals flagged as high risk include marine mammals such as gray whales and bottlenose dolphins, as well as Chinese hamsters.
Importantly, domestic animals such as cats, cattle and sheep were found to have
a medium risk, and dogs, horses and pigs were found to have low risk for ACE2 binding. How this relates to infection and disease risk needs to be determined by future studies, but for those species that have known infectivity data, the correlation is high.
To date, in documented cases of SARS-COV-2 infection in mink, cats, dogs, hamsters, lions and tigers, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus may be using ACE2 receptors or they may use receptors other than ACE2 to gain access to host cells. Lower propensity for binding could translate to lower propensity for infection, or lower ability for the infection to spread in an animal or between animals once established.
As a result of the potential for animals to contract the novel coronavirus from humans, and vice versa, institutions including the National Zoo and the San Diego Zoo, which both contributed genomic material to the study, have strengthened programs to protect both animals and humans.
Co-author Klaus-Peter Koepfli, senior research scientist at Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation and former conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Species Survival and Center for Conservation Genomics said, "Zoonotic diseases and how to prevent human to animal transmission is not a new challenge to zoos and animal care professionals. This new information allows us to focus our efforts and plan accordingly to keep animals and humans safe."’
The researchers urge caution against over interpreting the predicted animal risks based on the computational results, noting the actual risks can only be confirmed with additional experimental data.
Studies have shown that the immediate ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in a species of bat. Bats were found to be at very low risk of contracting the novel coronavirus via their ACE2 receptor, which is consistent with actual experimental data.
Importantly whether bats directly transmitted the novel coronavirus directly to humans, or whether it went through an intermediate host, is not yet known, but the study supports the idea that one or more intermediate hosts was involved.
The study data allow researchers to zero in on which species might have served as an intermediate host in the wild, assisting efforts to control a future outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 infection in human and animal populations.
The study findings also has implications that attention has to be also paid to transmission of the disease from human to animals and also vice versa from animal to humans as not only will that affect disease control in the long term but there could also be the possible of new variant strains emerging with newer characteristics.
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