Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, a question has arisen about the risks of infection in animals. Cases of contamination and death in dogs and cats have been recorded in recent months. But according to new research carried out by scientists at the University of California at Davis, Covid-19 could affect a much larger spectrum of animal species.
The team of scientists used the genomics method to compare the main cellular receptor for SARS CoV-2 in humans (the ACE2 enzyme) in 410 different species of vertebrates (birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals). The researchers studied 25 amino acid sequences of the ACE2 protein.
“The animals whose 25 amino acid residues correspond to the human protein are those at greatest risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 via ACE2,” notes Joana Damas, researcher at the University of California at Davis, who led the study, published in the journal PNAS.
According to the results obtained at the end of the research, several species of primates would be seriously threatened, such as the western lowland gorilla, the Sumatran orangutan and the northern white-cheeked gibbon, with a very high risk of infection of the virus via the ACE2 receptor.
Other animals have been considered at high risk, including Chinese hamsters or marine mammals such as gray whales and bottlenose dolphins. Pets such as cats, cattle and sheep are at medium risk, while dogs, horses and pigs are at low risk for ACE2 uptake.
While the link between the binding of the ACE2 protein and the risk of infection with the new coronavirus needs to be explored in future studies (and must therefore be interpreted with caution), the data already available may prove useful in preventing the risks of transmission from humans to animals, according to Klaus-Peter Koepfli, principal researcher at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation and co-author of the research.
According to the scientists, these new data would also make it possible to determine which species could have served as an intermediate host in nature, in order to fight against a new epidemic wave and to prevent risks in human and animal populations.