Rodents could be asymptomatic carriers of SARS-like coronaviruses

Binding of a spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 (red) to an ACE2 receptor (blue) leads to the penetration of the virus into the cell, as shown in the background. Credit: Juan Gaertner, CC-BY 4.0

Some ancestral rodents probably had recurrent infections with SARS-like coronaviruses, causing them to gain tolerance or resistance to the pathogens, according to a new research release today (November 18)th, 2021) en PLOS Computer Biology by Sean King and Mona Singh by

Amino acids are a set of organic compounds used to build proteins. There are about 500 naturally occurring known amino acids, though only 20 appear in the genetic code. Proteins consist of one or more chains of amino acids called polypeptides. The sequence of the amino acid chain causes the polypeptide to fold into a shape that is biologically active. The amino acid sequences of proteins are encoded in the genes. Nine proteinogenic amino acids are called “essential” for humans because they cannot be produced from other compounds by the human body and so must be taken in as food.

“>amino acids in the sites of the ACE2 receptor known to bind SARS viruses. Rodents, however, had greater diversity – and accelerated development – in these areas. Overall, the results indicated that SARS-like infections were not developmental drivers in primary history, but that some rodent species were likely to be exposed to recurrent SARS-like coronavirus infections over a considerable evolutionary period.

“Our study suggests that ancestral rodents may have had recurrent infections with SARS-like coronaviruses and acquired some form of tolerance or resistance to SARS-like coronaviruses as a result of these infections,” the authors add. “This raises the tempting possibility that some modern rodent species may be asymptomatic carriers of SARS-like coronaviruses, including those that may not have been discovered yet.

Reference: “Comparative genome analysis reveals various levels of mammalian adaptation to coronavirus infections” by King SB, Singh M, 18 November 2021, PLOS Computer Biology.
DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pcbi.1009560

Funding: This work was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01-GM076275 (to MS) and 5T32GM007388 (to Princeton University Department of Molecular Biology). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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