Science

Species of orangutans, whales, gibbons and dolphins at high Covid-19 risk: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on August 23, 2020

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According to a new study published in the journal of the University of California, Davis, endangered animal species including orangutans, gibbons, whales, and dolphins are at high risk of catching the novel coronavirus.

The team of scientists used genomic analysis to compare the main cellular receptor for the virus in humans — ACE2 — in 410 different species of vertebrates, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

ACE2 is normally found on many different types of cells and tissues, including epithelial cells in the nose, mouth, and lungs. ACE2 protein is the main protein that the coronavirus targets to bind itself and spread infection in the host’s body.

Joana Damas, first author for the paper and a postdoctoral research associate at UC Davis said in a statement: “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.”

About 40 per cent 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.

The study was published August 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Harris Lewin, lead author of the study and a distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis said in the study: “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,” he added.

This includes several critically endangered primate species, such as the Western lowland gorilla, Sumatran orangutan, and Northern white-cheeked gibbon.

Other animals flagged as high risk include marine mammals such as gray whales and bottlenose dolphins, as well as Chinese hamsters.

Domestic animals including cats, cattle, and sheep were found to have medium risk, and dogs, horses, and pigs were found to have a low risk for ACE2 binding.

Researchers also found that bats were at very low risk of contracting the novel coronavirus via their ACE2 receptor.

Published on August 23, 2020

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