The animal origin of SARS-CoV-2 remains enigmatic, but the answer to this question is critical to prevent future emergence of zoonotic pathogens such as coronaviruses with pandemic potential as with COVID-19. While bats are natural reservoirs for coronaviruses, our previous study (Lam et al. Nature 2020) showed that Malayan pangolins smuggled into China are the only non-bat animals found to carry coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV-2 prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, implicating their potential role as intermediary hosts for the emergence of SARS- CoV-2 from bats to humans. Malayan pangolins are an exotic species in China, smuggled into the country from regions of Southeast Asia where they are indigenous, raising the possibility that SARS- CoV-2 related viruses may circulate in the natural habitats of these animals, or along the trafficking route to China. Our preliminary observations, as well as some recent reports, provide evidence for co-habitation of pangolins and bats in the same sleeping sites in the wild, supporting this hypothesis of virus exchange in nature. Furthermore, we have recently found a novel zoonotic virus from ticks parasitizing pangolins (Jia et al. EBioMedicine 2019), implicating these animals in the emergence of additional viruses with threats to humans. Notably, there is very limited research on the viral diversity and ecology of pangolins. Therefore, this project assembles a team of local and international ecologists, virologists, bioinformaticians and biochemists to conduct multi-disciplinary study into the role of pangolins in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses in humans, from ecological to molecular levels.
|Effective start/end date||01/05/21 → 31/10/23|
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