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Bat Coronaviruses in China

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Abstract and Figures

During the past two decades, three zoonotic coronaviruses have been identified as the cause of large-scale disease outbreaks–Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Swine Acute Diarrhea Syndrome (SADS). SARS and MERS emerged in 2003 and 2012, respectively, and caused a worldwide pandemic that claimed thousands of human lives, while SADS struck the swine industry in 2017. They have common characteristics, such as they are all highly pathogenic to humans or livestock, their agents originated from bats, and two of them originated in China. Thus, it is highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China. Therefore, the investigation of bat coronaviruses becomes an urgent issue for the detection of early warning signs, which in turn minimizes the impact of such future outbreaks in China. The purpose of the review is to summarize the current knowledge on viral diversity, reservoir hosts, and the geographical distributions of bat coronaviruses in China, and eventually we aim to predict virus hotspots and their cross-species transmission potential.
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viruses
Review
Bat Coronaviruses in China
Yi Fan 1,2 , Kai Zhao 1,2, Zheng-Li Shi 1,2 and Peng Zhou 1,2 ,*
1
CAS Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of
Sciences, Wuhan 430071, China; yifanfs0224@163.com (Y.F.); chiukal@163.com (K.Z.);
zlshi@wh.iov.cn (Z.-L.S.)
2University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
*Correspondence: peng.zhou@wh.iov.cn
Received: 29 January 2019; Accepted: 26 February 2019; Published: 2 March 2019


Abstract:
During the past two decades, three zoonotic coronaviruses have been identified as the
cause of large-scale disease outbreaks–Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East
Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Swine Acute Diarrhea Syndrome (SADS). SARS and MERS
emerged in 2003 and 2012, respectively, and caused a worldwide pandemic that claimed thousands
of human lives, while SADS struck the swine industry in 2017. They have common characteristics,
such as they are all highly pathogenic to humans or livestock, their agents originated from bats, and
two of them originated in China. Thus, it is highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus
outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China.
Therefore, the investigation of bat coronaviruses becomes an urgent issue for the detection of early
warning signs, which in turn minimizes the impact of such future outbreaks in China. The purpose
of the review is to summarize the current knowledge on viral diversity, reservoir hosts, and the
geographical distributions of bat coronaviruses in China, and eventually we aim to predict virus
hotspots and their cross-species transmission potential.
Keywords: coronavirus; bat; epidemiology; cross-species; zoonosis
1. Introduction
Fifteen years after the first highly pathogenic human coronavirus caused the severe acute
respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) outbreak, another severe acute diarrhea syndrome
coronavirus (SADS-CoV) devastated livestock production by causing fatal diseases in pigs. Both
outbreaks began in China and were caused by coronaviruses of bat origin [
1
,
2
]. This increased
the urgency to study bat coronaviruses in China to understand their potential of causing another
virus outbreak.
In this review, we collected information from past epidemiology studies on bat coronaviruses in
China, including the virus species identified, their host species, and their geographical distributions.
We also discuss the future prospects of bat coronaviruses cross-species transmission and spread
in China.
2. Why Study Bat Coronaviruses in China?
2.1. Coronavirus Taxonomy
Coronaviruses (CoVs) belong to the subfamily Orthocoronavirinae in the family Coronaviridae
and the order Nidovirales. CoVs have an enveloped, crown-like viral particle from which they were
named after. The CoV genome is a positive-sense, single-strand RNA (+ssRNA), 27–32 kb in size,
which is the second largest of all RNA virus genomes. Typically, two thirds of the genomic RNA
encodes for two large overlapping polyproteins, ORF1a and ORF1b, that are processed into the viral
Viruses 2019,11, 210; doi:10.3390/v11030210 www.mdpi.com/journal/viruses
Viruses 2019,11, 210 2 of 14
polymerase (RdRp) and other nonstructural proteins involved in RNA synthesis or host response
modulation. The other third of the genome encodes for four structural proteins (spike (S), envelope (E),
membrane (M), and nucleocapsid (N)) and other accessory proteins. While the ORF1a/ORF1b and the
four structural proteins are relatively consistent, the length of the CoV genome is largely dependent on
the number and size of accessory proteins [3].
Compared with other RNA viruses, the expanded genome size of CoVs is believed to be associated
with increased replication fidelity, after acquiring genes encoding RNA-processing enzymes [
4
].
Genome expansion further facilitates the acquisition of genes encoding accessory proteins that are
beneficial for CoVs to adapt to a specific host [
5
]. As a result, genome changes caused by recombination,
gene interchange, and gene insertion or deletion are common among CoVs. The CoV subfamily is
expanding rapidly, due to the application of next generation sequencing which has increased the
detection and identification of new CoV species. As a result, CoV taxonomy is constantly changing.
According to the latest International Committee of Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) classification, there
are four genera (
α
-,
β
-,
δ
-, and
γ
-) consisting of thirty-eight unique species in the subfamily [
6
]. The
number of species will continue to increase, as there are still many unclassified CoVs [7,8].
CoVs cause disease in a variety of domestic and wild animals as well as in humans, where
α
- and
β
-CoVs mainly infect mammals and
γ
- and
δ
-CoVs mainly infect birds (Table 1). Two highly pathogenic
β-CoVs, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV have caused pandemics in humans since 2002 [1,9]. Originating
in China and then spreading to other parts of the world, SARS-CoV infected around 8000 individuals
with an overall mortality of 10% during the 2002–2003 pandemic [
1
]. Since its emergence in 2012 in
the Middle East, MERS-CoV spread to 27 countries, resulting in 2249 laboratory-confirmed cases
of infection with an average mortality of 35.5% (until September 2018) [
9
]. Besides these two
viruses,
α
-CoVs 229E and NL63 and
β
-CoVs OC43 and HKU1 can also cause respiratory diseases
in humans [
10
]. Moreover, CoVs cause pandemic disease in domestic and wild animals (Table 1).
SADS-CoV was recently identified as the etiological agent responsible for a large-scale outbreak of fatal
disease in pigs in China that caused the death of more than 20,000 piglets [
2
]. Porcine epidemic diarrhea
virus (PEDV) and transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) that belong to
α
-CoV and porcine
δ
-CoV
(PDCoV) are also important emerging and re-emerging viruses in pigs that pose significant economic
threat to the swine industry [
11
]. In addition, avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV,
γ
-CoV) causes a
highly contagious disease that affects poultry production worldwide [
12
]. Coronaviruses have also
been associated with catarrhal gastroenteritis in mink (MCoV) and whale deaths (BWCoV-SW1) [
13
,
14
].
2.2. Linking Bats to Coronaviruses
Bat are the only mammals with the capability of powered flight, which enables them to have
a longer range of migration compared to land mammals. Bats are also the second largest order of
mammals, accounting for about a fifth of all mammalian species, and are distributed worldwide.
Phylogenetic analysis classified bats into two large suborders—the Yinpterochiroptera, consisting of
one Pteropodidae (megabat) and five Rhinolophoidea (microbat) families, and the Yangochiroptera
comprising a total of thirteen microbat families [15].
It is hypothesized that flight provided the selection pressure for coexistence with viruses, while
the migratory ability of bats has particular relevance in the context of disease transmission [
16
]. Indeed,
bats were linked to a few highly pathogenic human diseases, supporting this hypothesis. Some of
these well characterized bat viruses, including bat lyssaviruses (Rabies virus), henipaviruses (Nipah
virus and Hendra virus), CoVs (SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SADS-CoV), and filoviruses (Marburg
virus, Ebola virus, and Mengla virus), pose a great threat to human health [
16
,
17
]. A comprehensive
analysis of mammalian host–virus relationships demonstrated that bats harbor a significantly higher
proportion of zoonotic viruses than other mammalian orders [
18
]. Viruses from most of the viral
families can be found in bats [16].
Bats are now recognized as important reservoir hosts of CoVs (Table 1). Although civet cats were
initially identified as the animal origin of SARS-CoV, bats were soon found to be the most likely natural
Viruses 2019,11, 210 3 of 14
reservoir hosts of this virus [
19
21
]. Long-term surveillance revealed an average 10% SARS-related
CoV nucleotide positivity in bats, including some viruses that can use same human entry receptor
ACE2 as SARS-CoV [
7
,
22
]. Similarly, bats have been proposed to harbor the progenitor viruses of
MERS-CoV, although dromedary camels can transmit this virus to humans directly [
9
]. The most recent
SADS-CoV spillover was traced back to bats [
2
]. In addition, bats also carry
α
-CoVs that are related
to pathogenic human 229E- and NL63-CoVs, as well as pandemic swine coronavirus PEDV [
23
,
24
].
In summary, bats carry major
α
- (10 out of 17) and
β
- (7 out of 12) CoV species that may spillover to
humans and cause disease (Table 1). Attributed to the wide distribution of bats, CoVs can be found
worldwide, including China [25].
2.3. Why China?
Two bat CoVs caused outbreaks in China; it is thus urgent to study the reasons to avoid future
outbreaks. China is the third largest territory and is also the most populous nation in the world. A vast
homeland plus diverse climates bring about great biodiversity including that of bats and bat-borne
viruses—most of the ICTV coronavirus species (22/38) were named by Chinese scientists studying
local bats or other mammals. The majority of the CoVs can be found in China (Table 1). Moreover,
most of the bat hosts of these CoVs live near humans, potentially transmitting viruses to humans and
livestock. Chinese food culture maintains that live slaughtered animals are more nutritious, and this
belief may enhance viral transmission.
It is generally believed that bat-borne CoVs will re-emerge to cause the next disease outbreak.
In this regard, China is a likely hotspot. The challenge is to predict when and where, so that we can try
our best to prevent such outbreaks.
Viruses 2019,11, 210 4 of 14
Table 1. International Committee of Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) classification of coronaviruses species, reservoir hosts, and presence reported in China.
Coronavirus Species Abbreviations Human Bats Other Animals Reported in China
Bat coronavirus HKU10 BtCoV-HKU10 Yes Yes [7,8,26,27]
α-CoV
Bat coronavirus CDPHE15 BtCoV-CDPHE15 Yes No
Rhinolophus ferrumequinum alphacoronavirus HuB-2013 BtRfCoV-HuB13 Yes Yes [8]
* Human coronavirus 229E HCoV-229E Yes Yes [28,29]
Lucheng Rn rat coronavirus LRNV Yes (rat) Yes [30]
Ferret coronavirus FRCoV Yes (ferret) No [31]
* Mink coronavirus 1 MCoV Yes (mink) No [14]
Miniopterus bat coronavirus 1 BtMiCoV-1 Yes Yes [7,8,3237]
Miniopterus bat coronavirus HKU8 BtMiCoV-HKU8 Yes Yes [7,8,3335,3741]
Myotis ricketti alphacoronavirus Sax-2011 BtMy-Sax11 Yes Yes [8,37]
Nyctalus velutinus alphacoronavirus SC-2013 BtNy-Sc13 Yes Yes [8]
* Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus PEDV Yes (pig) Yes [42]
Scotophilus bat coronavirus 512 BtScCoV-512 Yes Yes [37]
*Rhinolophus bat coronavirus HKU2 (SADS) BtRhCoV-HKU2 Yes Yes Yes [2,7,8,38,4345]
* Human coronavirus NL63 HCoV-NL63 Yes Yes [28,29]
NL63-related bat coronavirus strain BtKYNL63-9b BtKYNL63 Yes No [24]
* Alphacoronavirus 1 (Transmissible gastroenteritis virus) TGEV Yes (pig) Yes [42]
China Rattus coronavirus HKU24 RtCoV-HKU24 Yes (rat) Yes [46]
β-CoV
* Human coronavirus HKU1 HCoV-HKU1 Yes Yes [28,29]
* Murine coronavirus (Murine hepatitis coronavirus) MHV Yes (mouse) No [47]
Bat Hp-betacoronavirus Zhejiang2013 BtHpCoV-ZJ13 Yes Yes [8]
Hedgehog coronavirus 1 EriCoV-1 Yes (hedgehog) No [48]
* Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus MERSr-CoV Yes Yes Yes [49,50]
Pipistrellus bat coronavirus HKU5 BtPiCoV-HKU5 Yes Yes [38,39,49,51,52]
Tylonycteris bat coronavirus HKU4 BtTyCoV-HKU4 Yes Yes [36,38,39,4951]
Rousettus bat coronavirus GCCDC1 #BtEoCoV-GCCDC1 Yes Yes [5355]
Rousettus bat coronavirus HKU9 BtRoCoV-HKU9 Yes Yes [39,5557]
* Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus SARSr-CoV Yes Yes Yes [7,8,2022,27,37,40,45,5864]
* Betacoronavirus 1 (Human coronavirus OC43) HCoV-OC43 Yes Yes [28,29]
Wigeon coronavirus HKU20 WiCoV-HKU20 Yes (bird) Yes [65]
δ-CoV
Bulbul coronavirus HKU11 BuCoV-HKU11 Yes (bird) Yes [65]
Coronavirus HKU15 PoCoV-HKU15 Yes (pig) Yes [66]
Munia coronavirus HKU13 MuCoV-HKU13 Yes (bird) Yes [65]
White-eye coronavirus HKU16 WECoV-HKU13 Yes (bird) Yes [65]
Night heron coronavirus HKU19 NHCoV-HKU19 Yes (bird) Yes [65]
Common moorhen coronavirus HKU21 CMCoV-HKU21 Yes (bird) Yes [65]
*?Beluga whale coronavirus SW1 BWCoV-SW1 Yes (whale) No [13]γ-CoV
* Avian infectious bronchitis virus IBV Yes (bird) Yes [12]
* The disease-causing CoVs are indicated and the three zoonotic CoVs are in bold. *? BWCoV-SW1 was found in a sick whale, but whether it was the etiological agent of the infection was
not proven. # Carrier of this virus was confirmed as Eonycteris spelaea, but not Rousettus bats. The virus was renamed accordingly.
Viruses 2019,11, 210 5 of 14
3. Bat Coronaviruses That Are Associated with Diseases
3.1. SARS-Related Coronaviruses
In November 2012, the first case of SARS was recorded in Foshan city, Guangdong Province,
China (Figure 1). In 2005, two independent Chinese groups reported the first bat SARS-related CoV
(SARSr-CoV) that was closely related to human SARS-CoV, implying a bat origin of the latter [
20
,
21
].
Since then, more bat SARSr-CoV isolates were identified in China (Table 1). Genome identities of
these bat SARSr-CoVs are as high as 92% to human SARS-CoV, but their major receptor binding spike
proteins cannot use the human virus entry receptor ACE2 [
67
]. Whether they are the progenitor viruses
of SARS-CoV is debatable. In 2013, the isolation of a bat SARSr-CoV that uses the ACE2 receptor
provided the strongest evidence of the bat origin of SARS-CoV [
22
]. Furthermore, the building blocks
for SARS-CoV were identified from eleven different SARSr-CoV viral strains in a five-year surveillance
program in a cave inhabited by multiple species of horseshoe bats in Yunnan Province, China [62].
Viruses 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 6 of 14
3. Bat Coronaviruses That Are Associated with Diseases
3.1. SARS-Related Coronaviruses
In November 2012, the first case of SARS was recorded in Foshan city, Guangdong Province,
China (Figure 1). In 2005, two independent Chinese groups reported the first bat SARS-related CoV
(SARSr-CoV) that was closely related to human SARS-CoV, implying a bat origin of the latter [20,21].
Since then, more bat SARSr-CoV isolates were identified in China (Table 1). Genome identities of
these bat SARSr-CoVs are as high as 92% to human SARS-CoV, but their major receptor binding spike
proteins cannot use the human virus entry receptor ACE2 [67]. Whether they are the progenitor
viruses of SARS-CoV is debatable. In 2013, the isolation of a bat SARSr-CoV that uses the ACE2
receptor provided the strongest evidence of the bat origin of SARS-CoV [22]. Furthermore, the
building blocks for SARS-CoV were identified from eleven different SARSr-CoV viral strains in a
five-year surveillance program in a cave inhabited by multiple species of horseshoe bats in Yunnan
Province, China [62].
Figure 1. Geographical distribution of bat coronaviruses (CoVs) and their corresponding bat hosts in
China. Each red box represents one CoV positive sample found in that particular bat species. One dot
matrix was drawn for each province where a CoV positive sample had been reported. Guangdong
Province, where SARS and SADS began, is circled in red. Abbreviations of bat species and virus
species are indicated.
SARSr-CoVs found in China show great genomic diversity (Figure 2). Sequence identities of the
conserved 440 bp RdRp region ranges from 80 to 100% with human SARS-CoV. CoV diversity in bats
is thought to be shaped by both species richness and geographical distribution, and CoVs exhibit
clustering at the bat genera level, with these genus-specic clusters largely associated with distinct
CoV species [25]. Our analysis supports this theory. SARSr-CoVs are present in different bat species
but all belong to the family of Rhinolophidae and Hipposideridae (Figure 1). Chaerephon plicata bats
were also reported as carriers in one study, but this cannot be conclusively supported without
Figure 1.
Geographical distribution of bat coronaviruses (CoVs) and their corresponding bat hosts in
China. Each red box represents one CoV positive sample found in that particular bat species. One dot
matrix was drawn for each province where a CoV positive sample had been reported. Guangdong
Province, where SARS and SADS began, is circled in red. Abbreviations of bat species and virus species
are indicated.
SARSr-CoVs found in China show great genomic diversity (Figure 2). Sequence identities of the
conserved 440 bp RdRp region ranges from 80 to 100% with human SARS-CoV. CoV diversity in bats
is thought to be shaped by both species richness and geographical distribution, and CoVs exhibit
clustering at the bat genera level, with these genus-specific clusters largely associated with distinct CoV
species [
25
]. Our analysis supports this theory. SARSr-CoVs are present in different bat species but all
belong to the family of Rhinolophidae and Hipposideridae (Figure 1). Chaerephon plicata bats were
also reported as carriers in one study, but this cannot be conclusively supported without molecular
identification of the bat species [
8
]. In China, horseshoe bat species (Rhinolophus spp.) are widely
Viruses 2019,11, 210 6 of 14
distributed, including R. sinicus,R. ferrumequinum,R. macrotis,R. pearsoni, and R. pusillus, and are also
the most frequent SARSr-CoV carriers throughout the nation [
7
,
8
,
20
22
,
27
,
40
,
43
,
45
,
58
,
59
,
61
63
,
68
]
(Figure 1). The most variable regions among bat SARSr-CoVs are the S and ORF8 genes [
62
]. The S
protein in certain strains is capable of using human ACE2 as a receptor and thus poses a direct threat
to humans [69]. Interestingly, all the SARSr-CoVs that are capable of using human ACE2 were found
in R. sinicus in Yunnan Province [
7
,
22
,
27
,
62
]. Other SARSr-CoVs that cannot use human ACE2 were
distributed in multiple provinces, from north Jilin, Shaanxi, Shanxi to south Hubei, Zhejiang, Yunnan,
Guizhou, and Guangdong (Figure 1). Another protein, ORF8, was suggested to be important for
interspecies transmission, as most human SARS-CoV epidemic strains contain a signature 29-nucleotide
deletion in ORF8 compared to civet SARSr-CoVs, which results in the formation of two separate open
reading frames, ORF 8a and 8b [
40
]. Only two R. ferrumequinum and one R. sinicus from Yunnan
Province carried viruses that possess ORF8 proteins with exceptionally high amino acid identities
to that of human/civet SARSr-CoVs [
40
,
62
]. It was strongly suggested that SARS-CoV most likely
originated from Yunnan Rhinolophus bats via recombination events among existing SARSr-CoVs.
Viruses 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 14
molecular identification of the bat species [8]. In China, horseshoe bat species (Rhinolophus spp.) are
widely distributed, including R. sinicus, R. ferrumequinum, R. macrotis, R. pearsoni, and R. pusillus, and
are also the most frequent SARSr-CoV carriers throughout the nation [7,8,20–22,27,40,43,45,58,59,61–
63,68] (Figure 1). The most variable regions among bat SARSr-CoVs are the S and ORF8 genes [62].
The S protein in certain strains is capable of using human ACE2 as a receptor and thus poses a direct
threat to humans [69]. Interestingly, all the SARSr-CoVs that are capable of using human ACE2 were
found in R. sinicus in Yunnan Province [7,22,27,62]. Other SARSr-CoVs that cannot use human ACE2
were distributed in multiple provinces, from north Jilin, Shaanxi, Shanxi to south Hubei, Zhejiang,
Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangdong (Figure 1). Another protein, ORF8, was suggested to be important
for interspecies transmission, as most human SARS-CoV epidemic strains contain a signature 29-
nucleotide deletion in ORF8 compared to civet SARSr-CoVs, which results in the formation of two
separate open reading frames, ORF 8a and 8b [40]. Only two R. ferrumequinum and one R. sinicus from
Yunnan Province carried viruses that possess ORF8 proteins with exceptionally high amino acid
identities to that of human/civet SARSr-CoVs [40,62]. It was strongly suggested that SARS-CoV most
likely originated from Yunnan Rhinolophus bats via recombination events among existing SARSr-
CoVs.
Figure 2. Genetic diversity of bat CoV in China. Sequences of 440 bp conserved the viral polymerase
(RdRp) region for each CoV species were compared to related reference sequences. Reference
genomes used: BtCoV-HKU10, NC_018871.1; BtRfCoV-HuB13, NC_028814.1; BtMiCoV-1,
EU420138.1; BtMiCoV-HKU8, NC_010438.1; BtRhCoV-HKU2, MF094682.1; BtHpCoV-ZJ13,
NC_025217.1; MERSr-CoV, NC_038294.1; BtPiCoV-HKU5, NC_009020.1; BtTyCoV-HKU4,
NC_009019.1; BtRoCoV-GCCDC1, MG762606.1; BtRoCoV-HKU9, NC_009021.1; and SARSr-CoV,
NC_004718.3. Notably, samples that were positive for BtMy-Sax11, BtNy-Sc13, and BtScCoV-512 were
also identified in China. These were not taken into account here as too few sequences were available.
These studies revealed that various SARSr-CoVs capable of using human ACE2 are still
circulating among bats in China, highlighting the possibly of another SARS-like disease outbreak.
Certain areas in Yunnan Province are hotspots for spillover. To support this hypothesis, we provide
serological evidence of bat SARSr-CoV infection in humans in Yunnan Province where no prior
exposure to SARS-CoV was recorded [70]. The majority of the SARSr-CoVs appear not able to use
ACE2, but their infectivity or pathogenesis to humans are still unknown. Frequent interspecies
recombination may result in another human infectious coronavirus from these SARSr-CoVs.
Furthermore, there are still unanswered questions about SARS, e.g., ‘Why did the first SARS case
occur in Guangdong Province, but all the human-ACE2-using SARSr-CoVs were found in Yunnan
Province?’ and ’Why does R. sinicus in certain areas carry human-ACE2-using SARSr-CoVs but no
Figure 2.
Genetic diversity of bat CoV in China. Sequences of 440 bp conserved the
viral polymerase (RdRp) region for each CoV species were compared to related reference
sequences. Reference genomes used: BtCoV-HKU10, NC_018871.1; BtRfCoV-HuB13, NC_028814.1;
BtMiCoV-1, EU420138.1; BtMiCoV-HKU8, NC_010438.1; BtRhCoV-HKU2, MF094682.1; BtHpCoV-ZJ13,
NC_025217.1; MERSr-CoV, NC_038294.1; BtPiCoV-HKU5, NC_009020.1; BtTyCoV-HKU4, NC_009019.1;
BtRoCoV-GCCDC1, MG762606.1; BtRoCoV-HKU9, NC_009021.1; and SARSr-CoV, NC_004718.3.
Notably, samples that were positive for BtMy-Sax11, BtNy-Sc13, and BtScCoV-512 were also identified
in China. These were not taken into account here as too few sequences were available.
These studies revealed that various SARSr-CoVs capable of using human ACE2 are still circulating
among bats in China, highlighting the possibly of another SARS-like disease outbreak. Certain areas
in Yunnan Province are hotspots for spillover. To support this hypothesis, we provide serological
evidence of bat SARSr-CoV infection in humans in Yunnan Province where no prior exposure to
SARS-CoV was recorded [
70
]. The majority of the SARSr-CoVs appear not able to use ACE2, but their
infectivity or pathogenesis to humans are still unknown. Frequent interspecies recombination may
result in another human infectious coronavirus from these SARSr-CoVs. Furthermore, there are still
unanswered questions about SARS, e.g., ‘Why did the first SARS case occur in Guangdong Province,
but all the human-ACE2-using SARSr-CoVs were found in Yunnan Province?’ and ’Why does R.
sinicus in certain areas carry human-ACE2-using SARSr-CoVs but no other Rhinolophus species carry
the same viruses?’ Above all, further extensive surveillance of SARSr-CoVs in China is warranted.
Viruses 2019,11, 210 7 of 14
3.2. MERS-Cluster Coronaviruses
Different to bat SARSr-CoV, MERS-cluster CoVs were found in bats before the MERS disease
outbreaks. Two bat CoVs, Tylonycteris HKU4 and Pipistrellus HKU5 were first described as putative
group 2c CoVs in 2006 in China. They were associated with the HCoV-EMC (MERS-CoV) that
started the 2012 pandemic [
9
,
38
,
39
]. It is generally accepted that Middle East dromedary camels
were the major animal source for the zoonotic transmission of human MERS, while bats harbor
CoVs that shared common ancestry with MERS-CoV [
71
]. Extensive global surveys revealed a wide
distribution of largely diverged MERS-cluster CoVs (lineage 2c CoVs) [
71
]. Two closely related
Neoromicia zuluensis bat CoVs, NeoCoV and PREDICT/PDF-2180, were subsequently found, further
supporting the idea that MERS-CoV was descended from an ancestral virus of African bats [
72
,
73
]. So
far, three species of lineage 2c CoVs have been found in bats, according to the latest CoV taxonomy
reports. Based on phylogenetic trees constructed using RdRp, ORF1, S1, and N sequences, bat
MERS-related CoVs (MERSr-CoVs) are the closest relatives of MERS-CoV, followed by HKU4-CoV and
HKU5-CoV. However, in the S1 region, MERS-CoV was much closer to HKU4-CoV than to MERSr-CoV
or HKU5-CoV. Likewise, pseudovirus assays showed that the MERSr-CoV (HKU25 and 422CoV) spike
protein can use human DPP4 for entry into hDPP4-expressing cells, although with lower efficiency
than that of MERS-CoV or HKU4-CoV spike proteins [
49
,
50
]. There is no evidence of HKU5-CoV using
the human DPP4 receptor [74].
All three types of bat MERS-cluster CoVs can be found in China (Figures 1and 2). Their reservoir
hosts all belong to the Vespertilionidae family. MERSr-CoV can be found in multiple bat species,
including Pipistrellus bats (P. abramus and P. pipistrellus), great evening bats (Ia io), particolored bats
(Vespertilio superans), and Chinese pipistrelle bats (Hypsugo pulveratus) [
49
,
50
,
52
]. Due to this wide host
spectrum, MERSr-CoV also showed a large genetic diversity, ranging from 72 to 100% in the conserved
440 bp RdRp region. In contrast, HKU4-CoVs were only carried by Tylonycteris bats (T. pachypus and
T. robustula) and were relatively conserved [
38
,
39
,
49
] (Figure 2). HKU5-CoVs were found in different
Pipistrellus bats (P. abramus,P. pipistrellus,P. minus, and P. spp.) [
8
,
36
,
38
,
39
,
49
,
51
]. Like HKU4-CoVs,
they are also relatively conserved. The range of distribution varies, depending on MERS-cluster CoV
species. HKU5-CoVs should be the most widely distributed CoVs among the three as their hosts,
Pipistrellus bats, live close to humans. However, the reported CoV positive samples can only be found
in Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau, possibly due to a lack of investigation in other provinces.
In contrast, MERSr-CoVs were reported in multiple bat species in Sichuan, Guangdong, and Hong
Kong at a much lower level than HKU5-CoVs. Similarly, Tylonycteris bats are a rare bat species that
live in bamboo, which restricted the distribution of HKU4-CoVs to certain locations in Guangdong,
Guangxi, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hong Kong, and Macau (Figure 1). To sum up, it appears that the risk
of MERS-cluster CoV spillover to humans leading to an epidemic in China is low for the following
reasons: (1) the geographical distribution of MERSr-CoVs and HKU4-CoVs that have the potential to
infect humans (capable of using human entry receptors) is limited, and (2) HKU5-CoVs that widely
exist in Chinese bats across the nation have not obtained the ability of using human entry receptors.
However, we should not underestimate the possibility of recombination among different bat CoVs
that lead to the generation of potential pandemic viruses.
3.3. HKU2 (SADS)-Related CoV (HKU2r-CoV)
HKU2r-CoVs have only been reported in China and Kenya. From studies in China, HKU2r-CoVs
have been frequently found in Rhinolophus bats (R. affinis,R. sinicus,R. rex,and R. pusillus) in
several provinces before the SADS outbreak [
2
,
7
,
8
,
38
,
41
,
44
]. So far, the virus has been reported
in Hong Kong, Guangdong, Yunnan, and Tibet. There are perhaps more to be discovered in other
provinces considering the wide range of Rhinolophus bats. Notably, these bat species, which constantly
interact with both livestock and humans in China, also harbor SARSr-CoVs (see Section 3.1). Likewise,
HKU2r-CoVs showed a high genetic diversity with SARSr-CoVs (Figure 2). Due to these characteristics,
HKU2r-CoVs were listed as viruses that were highly likely to cross species to humans. The novel
Viruses 2019,11, 210 8 of 14
HKU2r-CoV, swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-CoV), was identified as the etiological
agent responsible for a large-scale outbreak of fatal disease in pigs in China, Guangdong Province in
2017 [
2
]. The entry receptor of SADS-CoV has not been identified, yet this virus showed a capacity
for infecting a wide range of human, swine, and bat cells (unpublished data). In China, the high
density of pig farms and the wide distribution of host bat species promote the possibility of future
HKU2r-CoV cross-species transmission [
75
]. Thus, studies on bat HKU2r-CoVs spillover potential and
their pathogenesis are urgent.
4. A SADS-CoV Model of Prediction and Other Hotspot Viruses
To predict the next CoV that will cause a virus outbreak in future, we list the general factors
that may contribute to this outbreak. Firstly, bats host a large number of highly diverse CoVs. It is
known that CoV genomes regularly undergo recombination during infection, and a rich gene pool can
facilitate this process. Secondly, bat species are widely distributed and live close to humans. Thirdly,
the viruses are pathogenic and transmissible. In this context, SADS-CoV and SARS-CoV outbreaks
in China are not unexpected. By this model, there are other CoVs that have not yet caused virus
outbreaks but should be monitored.
Within the family Vespertilionidae, the mouse-eared bats (Myotis) which favor roosting in
abandoned human facilities are also a widespread genus of bats besides Pipistrellus bats. They carry a
large number and genetically diversified HKU6-CoVs that are closely related to Myotis ricketti
α
-CoV
Sax-2011 [
36
,
38
]. Moreover, bent-winged bats (Miniopterus spp.) carry a large variety of
α
-CoVs.
One of the most frequently detected viruses is HKU8-CoV, which was first described circulating
in M. pusillus in Hong Kong in 2005. Later, it was also found in M. magnate,M. fuliginosus, and
M. schreibersii in Hong Kong, Guangdong, Yunnan, Fujian, and Hubei provinces, showing a great
genetic diversity [
32
35
,
37
,
41
,
60
] (Figure 1). Besides HKU8-CoVs, bent-winged bats (Miniopterus spp.)
also harbor a large amount of Miniopterus bat CoV 1 (BtMiCoV-1), which were called CoV1A or CoV1B
previously. This viral species was found almost as frequently as HKU8-CoV in multiple provinces in
China in Miniopterus bats, although these viruses showed a relatively small sequence variation between
each other [
32
35
,
37
,
41
,
60
]. Genetic analysis indicates that BtMiCoV-1, HKU8-CoV, and HKU7-CoV
(previous name) are different but closely related CoVs circulating in bent-winged bats and may have
descended from a common ancestor [
34
]. Additionally, Rousettus leschenaultii bats in the family of
Pteropodidae harbor HKU9-CoVs. As a fruit bat, Rousettus leschenaultii has a wider flying range than
most of the insectivorous bats in China, thus it may carry viruses over long distances. A comparison of
the reported HKU9-CoV sequences showed a high genetic diversity within this viral species [
55
57
]
(Figure 2). The last CoV that should be mentioned is HKU10-CoV. HKU10-CoVs can be found in
bats from different genera (Rousettus leschenaultii and Hipposideros pomona), suggesting interspecies
transmission between bats [
7
,
26
,
27
,
39
]. A genetic difference can also be observed for this virus species
(Figure 2). Above all, these viruses fit well in our SADS prediction model and should be monitored in
our future studies.
5. Other Bat CoVs in China
In 2016, a novel
β
-CoV, Ro-BatCoVGCCDC1, was identified from the Rousettus leschenaultii bat.
However, we confirmed the host was a closely related Eonycteris spelaea bat upon species identification
and then renamed the virus as BtEoCoV-GCCDC1 (Table 1). The uniqueness of this virus is that it
contains a gene that most likely originated from the p10 gene of a bat orthoreovirus [
53
]. A two-year
follow-up study also illustrated that BtEoCoV-GCCDC1 persistently circulates among bats. Different
to the genetically diverged HKU9-CoV, this virus is highly conserved (Figure 2). BtEoCoV-GCCDC1
has only been found in south Yunnan Province so far [
54
,
55
]. In addition, there are other bat CoVs that
have been identified in China: Rhinolophus ferrumequinum
α
-CoV HuB-2013 [
8
], Myotis ricketti
α
-CoV
Sax-2011 [
8
,
37
], Nyctalus velutinus
α
-CoV SC-2013 [
8
], Scotophilus bat CoV 512 [
37
], Hipposideros bat
β
-CoV Zhejiang2013, and a Murina leucogaster bat CoV, which has been described as the evolutionary
Viruses 2019,11, 210 9 of 14
ancestor of PEDV [
37
]. Notably, there are still many unclassified bat CoVs circulating in China,
particularly in the northern part of the nation where bat viruses were rarely studied (Figure 1).
According to the criteria defined by the ICTV, the CoV family will most likely expand following further
investigation of bat CoVs in China.
6. Coexistence of Different Coronaviruses or Other Viruses in Bats
The coexistence of more than two viruses in the same bat is quite common for some bat species.
The coexistence of Miniopterus bat CoV 1 and HKU8-CoV in one bat has been frequently reported [
7
,
34
].
Another example is the coexistence between Rhinolophus HKU2-CoVs (SADS-CoV) and SARSr-CoVs
that caused the virus outbreaks, respectively [
2
,
45
]. Real-time monitoring this bat genus is necessary
for the prevention of future SARS-like outbreaks. Moreover, two or more distinct genotypes of
HKU9-CoVs were reported to coexist in a single Rousettus bat [
56
]. The coexistence of HKU9-CoVs
and a new identified bat filovirus (Mengla virus) that is phylogenetically related to the Ebola and
Marburg viruses was also identified from Rousettus bats [
17
,
55
]. Given that a bat orthoreovirus p10
gene was incorporated in the BtEoCoV-GCCDC1 genome, recombination between the bat filovirus
and HKU9-CoV cannot be excluded. Other pairs were also recorded—HKU8-CoV with unclassified
α
-CoV [
7
], HKU2-CoV with unclassified
α
-CoV [
7
], HKU10-CoV with unclassified
β
-CoV [
7
], and
HKU6-CoV with bat adenovirus [36].
7. Conclusions
Two bat origin CoVs caused large-scale epidemics in China over fourteen years, highlighting
the risk of a future bat CoV outbreak in this nation. In this review, we have summarized the current
findings related to bat CoV epidemiology in China, aiming to explore the associations between CoV
species, bat species, and geographical locations, and eventually we aim to predict the cross-species
transmission potential of these bat CoVs. Admittedly, the analysis may be affected by inaccurate or
incomplete data. For example, not all research groups performed bat species identification or used
Global Positioning System (GPS) during bat sampling. Bats in the north or west provinces were not
surveyed either. Nonetheless, we believe this analysis is a good starting point for further research.
Moreover, there are other outstanding questions that should be addressed in future studies: (1) given
that most of the ICTV classified CoV species are from bats, why there are so many genetically divergent
CoVs in bats, (2) the pathogenesis of most bat CoVs in humans remains unknown as the viruses have
never been isolated or rescued—apart from the viruses identified during the outbreaks, many viruses
pose a threat to human health, (3) although SARS-CoV and SADS-CoV were known to be transmitted
from bats to human or swine, their exact transmission routes are unknown, and (4) why bats can
maintain CoVs long-term without showing clinical symptoms of diseases. A unique bat immunity
model has been proposed. The authors have shown that constitutively expressed bat interferon
α
may
protect bats from infection [
76
], while some particularly dampened immune pathways may allow bats
to have a higher tolerance against viral diseases [
77
]. While we start to unveil the mystery of unique
bat immunity, there is still long way to go before we can fully understand the relationship between
bats and coronaviruses.
Author Contributions:
P.Z. and Z.-L.S. designed the study. Y.F. and K.Z. analyzed the data. P.Z. and Y.F. prepared
the manuscript.
Funding:
The work was supported by China’s National Science and Technology Major Project on Infectious
Diseases (2018ZX10101004) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Excellent Young Scholars to
PZ 81822028 and 81661148058).
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Viruses 2019,11, 210 10 of 14
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... Parte de la información presentada en esta nota de medicina fue publicada por uno de los autores el 3 ...
... En marzo de 2019, Fan et al. llamaron la atención sobre la necesidad urgente de investigar formas de detección temprana de signos de alarma (respiratorios y/o gastrointestinales) para intentar minimizar el impacto de un posible nuevo brote de coronavirus en China, debido a la alta patogenicidad de esta familia de virus y el origen zoonótico del agente. (3) A pesar de este llamado, en diciembre de 2019 fue reportado el brote de un nuevo coronavirus (2019-nCoV) en la ciudad de Wuhan, China. De acuerdo con el Global Health Security Index, China ha reportado un indicador sobre prevención enfermedades zoonóticas de 26.7/100, el cual es más bajo que el de países occidentales como Estados Unidos (77/100) y Colombia (44.8/100). ...
... Según la última clasificación del Comité Internacional de Taxonomía de Virus hay cuatro géneros (α-, β-, δ-y γ-) que consisten en 38 especies únicas en la subfamilia, donde los CoV α y β infectan principalmente a los mamíferos y los CoV γ y δ infectan principalmente a las aves. (3,5)three zoonotic coronaviruses have been identified as the cause of large-scale disease outbreaks-Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS Esta información indica que los CoV no son desconocidos; de hecho, han sido causantes de otros brotes de infecciones respiratorias leves y severas. ...
... Coronaviruses belong to the sub-family of Orthocoronavirinae in the family Coronaviridae, order Nidovirales, and realm Riboviria [71,72]. As mentioned, the coronaviruses are sorted into four genera: deltacoronavirus, gammacoronavirus, betacoronavirus, and alphacoronavirus. ...
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Emerging viral infections have been known as a significant threat of recent years. Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) was initially recognized in China and infected a large population through inhalation of droplets. Massive global deaths, multiple mutations, and the mysterious nature of the virus require serious actions. Transient mutations in this virus led to the production of different strains with various risks and severity of the disease, making the situation complex. Trigger of a cytokine storm after SARS-CoV-2 leads to the production of various inflammatory mediators including interleukin (IL)-6, IL-1β, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and interferon-γ (IFN-γ),. This ultimately leads to severe lung tissue damage which is the main cause of mortality associated with this virus. Several therapeutic approaches, including pharmacological agents with anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, are being used to manage these patients. This chapter explains the virus, its structure, and biology. Data were collected from different clinical and animal experiments published in English (2000-April 2021), selected from Google Scholar, Scopus, PubMed, and the Cochrane library.
... There has been an increased interest in bats following the recent Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. The discovery that these Wuhan bats can coexist with and transmit the virus whilst displaying no symptoms has raised questions about bats in Canada [1]. Meanwhile, Canada is home to seventeen bat species, with the most common of those being the Little Brown Bat, with three of those being present in Prince Edward Island, including the most recent finding of the eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis), during the Fall of 2020 [2,3]. ...
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Infections with bat-origin coronaviruses have caused severe illness in humans by 'host jump'. Recently, novel bat-origin coronaviruses were found in pigs. The large number of mutations on the receptor-binding domain allowed the viruses to infect the new host, posing a potential threat to both agriculture and public health.
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Previous studies indicated that fruit bats carry two betacoronaviruses, BatCoV HKU9 and BatCoV GCCDC1. To investigate the epidemiology and genetic diversity of these coronaviruses, we conducted a longitudinal surveillance in fruit bats in Yunnan province, China during 2009–2016. A total of 59 (10.63%) bat samples were positive for the two betacorona-viruses, 46 (8.29%) for HKU9 and 13 (2.34%) for GCCDC1, or closely related viruses. We identified a novel HKU9 strain, tentatively designated as BatCoV HKU9-2202, by sequencing the full-length genome. The BatCoV HKU9-2202 shared 83% nucleotide identity with other BatCoV HKU9 stains based on whole genome sequences. The most divergent region is in the spike protein, which only shares 68% amino acid identity with BatCoV HKU9. Quantitative PCR revealed that the intestine was the primary infection organ of BatCoV HKU9 and GCCDC1, but some HKU9 was also detected in the heart, kidney, and lung tissues of bats. This study highlights the importance of virus surveillance in natural reservoirs and emphasizes the need for preparedness against the potential spill-over of these viruses to local residents living near bat caves.
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Compared with terrestrial mammals, bats have a longer lifespan and greater capacity to co-exist with a variety of viruses. In addition to cytosolic DNA generated by these viral infections, the metabolic demands of flight cause DNA damage and the release of self-DNA into the cytoplasm. However, whether bats have an altered DNA sensing/defense system to balance high cytosolic DNA levels remains an open question. We demonstrate that bats have a dampened interferon response due to the replacement of the highly conserved serine residue (S358) in STING, an essential adaptor protein in multiple DNA sensing pathways. Reversing this mutation by introducing S358 restored STING functionality, resulting in interferon activation and virus inhibition. Combined with previous reports on bat-specific changes of other DNA sensors such as TLR9, IFI16, and AIM2, our findings shed light on bat adaptation to flight, their long lifespan, and their unique capacity to serve as a virus reservoir.
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Coronaviruses (CoVs) have been documented in almost every species of bat sampled. Bat CoVs exhibit both extensive genetic diversity and a broad geographic range, indicative of a long-standing host association. Despite this, the respective roles of long-term virus-host co-divergence and cross-species transmission (host-jumping) in the evolution of bat coronaviruses are unclear. Using a phylogenetic approach we provide evidence that CoV diversity in bats is shaped by both species richness and their geographical distribution, and that CoVs exhibit clustering at the level of bat genera, with these genus-specific clusters largely associated with distinct CoV species. Co-phylogenetic analyses revealed that cross-species transmission has been more common than co-divergence across coronavirus evolution as a whole, and that cross-species transmission events were more likely between sympatric bat hosts. Notably, however, an analysis of the CoV RNA polymerase phylogeny suggested that many such host-jumps likely resulted in short-term spill-over infections, with little evidence for sustained onward transmission in new co-roosting host species. Thanks to Elsevier, you can access this publication using the following link until March 21 2018. https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WU0r5aKq2AF3P