Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Unusual Biomedical Animals Week Under Threat

SARS-CoV-2 unlikely to have emerged directly from pangolins but they harbour other potentially zoonotic viruses

26 June 2020

Under Threat

With the origins of the coronavirus pandemic linked to wildlife markets, the wildlife trade is coming under renewed scrutiny, especially focused on the world’s most trafficked animals, pangolins. All eight species, from Africa and Asia, are threatened by illegal poaching and trade, particularly for their scales, used in traditional medicine. While the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have originated in bats, limited human contact with bats suggests that, like SARS and MERS before it, SARS-CoV-2 had an intermediate host, with pangolins as prime suspects. Researchers sampling viruses from three Malay pangolins (pictured) confirmed they are natural hosts for betacoronaviruses, the group including SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2. They reconstructed a pangolin virus sequence 90% identical to SARS-CoV-2, but despite this similarity, comparisons with bat viruses suggest this virus was not an intermediate to SARS-Cov-2. Nevertheless, the risk from zoonotic [a pathogen that jumps from animals to humans] betacoronaviruses should provide another incentive to stamp out the pangolin trade.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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