Coronavirus beasts | Science and life

There are quite a few coronaviruses in the world, and most of them affect animals and birds. Actually, the most dangerous human coronaviruses, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, came to us from animals. Being able to live with several owners, at some point they ended up in a person. And it turned out that in us they can reproduce quite successfully, gradually adapting more and more to the human body. Moreover, if you take the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the ability to infect other animals has not disappeared. Last fall, we wrote that SARS-CoV-2, with varying degrees of success, can infect a variety of mammalian species, from leopards and pandas to cows, dogs and sheep.

But, as we said, there are many coronaviruses. Is it possible to find out how many animals in general they are capable of infecting, and how much is it worth fearing that more coronaviruses will come from them? Employees tried to figure it out Liverpool University… They compared several hundred coronavirus genomes belonging to 92 species of coronavirus (many of the species exist in multiple strains). Knowing one viral host, one can assume in whom this virus can still live. Obviously, the other host will be evolutionarily close to the first, they both will live in approximately the same conditions and will eat about the same thing.

On the other hand, by comparing the genes of the two viruses, one can understand how different their hosts are. In any group of viruses there are closer and less closely related species, and coronaviruses are no exception. Two closely related coronaviruses are likely to infect the same animal species. Of course, this analysis is not done manually, but using sophisticated algorithms.

And now the algorithms have given out that each of the coronaviruses has at least twelve hosts. For the study, 876 species of animals were taken, among which 185 were known hosts for coronaviruses, and the rest were close relatives of these hosts. It turned out that each of the animals can give shelter to at least five types of coronaviruses. Among the animals there are real “super hosts”: for example, in the Malay palm marten, or musang, 32 types of coronaviruses can potentially settle (recall that SARS-CoV-2, which caused an outbreak of SARS in the early 2000s, came to people from musang) ; the big horseshoe bat is able to harbor 67 types of coronaviruses; pangolin – 14 species; in domestic pigs – 121 species.

Animals in which several types of coronaviruses or several strains of the same species are capable of settling become a genetic laboratory. If several different related viruses penetrate into one cell at the same time, they will be able to exchange genes, and as a result, viral particles with new genetic sets and new abilities will emerge from the cell. One of the new abilities may well be the ability to infect a person.

In an article in Nature Communications it says that for the new human coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, 126 species of mammals look like potential hosts. Among them there are those that can become a genetic laboratory, in particular, they can meet SARS-CoV-2, on the one hand, and MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, on the other. MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV are more dangerous than current SARS-CoV-2; especially from this trinity, MERS-CoV is dangerous, causing the Middle East respiratory syndrome: more than a third of those infected die from it, but it is difficult to become infected with it. But imagine what will happen if MERS-CoV borrows genes from some relative and increases its infectivity.

The authors of the work were able to determine which of the coronaviruses are most inclined to exchange genetic material when they meet, and which of the animals can especially contribute to this. In addition to several bats, camels and other species, the list also includes domestic pigs (it is not for nothing that 121 coronaviruses can live in them). Of course, it does not follow from this that you need to exterminate all pigs in the world, you just need to monitor them more carefully, check them more carefully for coronavirus infections, etc.

The authors of the work are going to perform a similar study for coronaviruses and birds; probably, among the birds, there will also be potential “genetic laboratories”, with a high probability that they are capable of generating new variants of viruses. But here it is worth paying attention to the word “potential”. New data was obtained using algorithms and indicate only a possible course of events. It does not at all follow from these data that every pig or bat you come across is stuffed to the brim with unprecedented coronaviruses, which are just waiting to pounce on you.

Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by

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