Risk Of New Variants Arising When Animals Catch Coronavirus From Humans

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Communication between two cats shows that covid infections can occur and create new strains.

Washington:

The results of a new study suggest that when animals carry COVID-19 from humans, new SARS-CoV-2 variants may appear.

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To evaluate this phenomenon, an interdisciplinary team from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences systematically analyzed the types of mutations that occur in cats, dogs, ferrets, and hamsters after infection. The study was recently published in the official journal PNAS of the National Academy of Sciences.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in various wild, zoo, and domestic animals show cross-species infections, a rare occurrence for most viruses.

“There is a very wide range of species of SARS-CoV-2 in the realm of coronaviruses,” said Laura Bashor, one of the first authors in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology and a doctoral student. “Generally speaking, many types of viruses cannot infect other species, they have evolved to be very specific.”

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“Humans have so much exposure to so many different animals that they allow the virus to have different manifestations of different species,” said Eric Gagne, a first-time author and now assistant professor of wildlife disease ecology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The laboratory of Sue Vandewood, a distinguished professor at the University of Colorado State University, has given researchers a unique opportunity to reach and spread the virus worldwide to investigate the viral evolution of SARS-CoV-2.

These experts in the transmission of the disease in wild and domestic cats have applied their experience in sequential analysis and in the study of genome collection in SARS-CoV-2. Researchers at the VandeWoude Lab have worked with Angela Bosco-Louth, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, and Professor Dick Bowen, who used their animal modeling skills to create a test for SARS-CoV-2 sensitivity in animal species.

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Also, the key to the investigation was a new sequencing technique for viruses at different stages of the study, which is now common for variant detection in the human population. Mark Stengelin, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, has provided computational skills in the analysis of organic molecular sequences, known as bioinformatics.

“We’ve seen evolution, we’ve seen the selection of viruses, and we’ve seen a lot of diversity in the genome sequences of viruses,” Bashor said.

To provide sufficient viral material for the study, Bosco-Lauth and Bowen cultivated a SARS-CoV-2 human sample in cells grown in the lab. Bashor and Gagnon determined that multiple mutations had evolved and that at each stage of the process a large percentage of the genetic population had become.

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The virus was then introduced to four family species and virus samples were collected from their nasal passages after infection.

“In animals, cell culture variations return to the early human species, indicating that adaptation is likely to occur to the cell culture and environment that was chosen for these forms,” ​​Gagnon said.

Cell culture All these mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 variant are not transferred to new hosts. Instead, various mutations emerged in viruses transmitted by living organisms.

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The initial viral sample in the study was isolated in early 2020. The team observed mutations that produced massive SARS-CoV-2 strains in the human population at an accelerated rate throughout the study.

“These were numbers that we saw in humans in alpha, beta, delta variants,” said Dr. Sue Vandewood, senior author. “There were specific genetic code changes that mimicked what other scientists have reported in humans.”

Exposure to contact between two cats proves that the SARS-CoV-2 variant can be transmitted with the potential to create a new strain between species.

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“It simply came to our notice then. “Hosts that are really well adapted to support SARS-CoV-2 infections are also very good at trapping and allowing these mutations to pass.”

Basheer did not expect to study SARS-CoV-2 when he came to start his doctoral studies at CSU during the epidemic. However, it did provide a unique opportunity to run as a graduate student in a “really great and effective project” in disease ecology and evolution.

When the team began studying SARS-CoV-2, Gagne was completing his postdoctoral research on cross-strain infections of the feline retrovirus in the VandeWoude lab. Now an assistant professor, he continues to investigate the SARS-CoV-2 spillover with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Futures program.

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Graduate students and early career scientists like Bashore and Gagan have made significant contributions to SARS-CoV-2 research, says Vande Wood.

The team continues their investigation to focus on cats, as they have shown a higher susceptibility to COVID-19 spillover from humans and can create forms of the virus and spread to other cats.

Bashor began analyzing the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence from a large pool of cat species around the world, including tigers, lions and snow leopards. The universally available data on infected cats may provide additional insights into the adaptability and variability of COVID-19 in and between cat species.

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There is no evidence of transmission from cats to humans. However, cats in the human population continue to be susceptible to all forms of COVID-19.

By understanding the viral evolution in cats, the research team can find the answer to this question: what is the future of SARS-CoV-2 for humans and animals.

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)

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