Research Highlight

Software tool for assessing COVID-19 risk in animals

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.158 Published online 12 October 2020

The novel coronavirus may jump from humans to the animals in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries where the chances of animal-human contact are higher, an international team of researchers has found1.

Using a software-based tool, they have identified that primates, carnivores, rodents and even-toed ungulates are at higher risk of getting the virus from humans.

This method can be used as a screening tool for guiding viral RNA‐based tests to contain the spread of COVID-19 in wildlife and domestic animals during an epidemic, says lead researcher Ashutosh Kumar from the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in Patna.

The novel coronavirus infects human cells by binding to a specific domain of a cell-surface protein known as angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The scientists first compared the complete protein sequence of human ACE2 (hACE2) with that of wild and domestic animals.

Next, they matched the amino acid sequence of the specific domain of hACE2 with that of the animals, and ranked their COVID-19 risks based on their susceptibility scores.

They found that chimpanzees, gorillas, Sumatran orang-utans, silvery gibbons, olive baboons and crab-eating macaques are at the highest risks of getting COVID-19 from humans. The risks of COVID-19 in grizzly bears, polar bears, naked mole rats, wild Bactrian camels and sperm whales followed these primates.

Endangered animals such as the giant panda and the white rhinoceros, noted in the list, also raised a concern in terms of protection from COVID‐19, the researchers say.


References

1. Kumar, A. et al. Predicting susceptibility for SARS‐CoV‐2 infection in domestic and wildlife animals using ACE2 protein sequence homology. Zoo. Biol. 1-7 (2020) doi: 10.1002/zoo.21576