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2019_nCoV: Rapid classification of betacoronaviruses and identification of traditional Chinese medicine as potential origin of zoonotic coronaviruses

By February 14, 2020February 26th, 2020Publications

Trudy M. Wassenaar and Ying Zou

Lett Appl Microbiol. 2020 Feb 14. doi: 10.1111/lam.13285. [Epub ahead of print]


The current outbreak of a novel SARS‐like coronavirus, 2019_nCoV, illustrated difficulties in identifying a novel coronavirus and its natural host, as the coding sequences of various Betacoronavirus species can be highly diverse. By means of whole‐genome sequence comparisons, we demonstrate that the non‐coding flanks of the viral genome can be used to correctly separate the recognized four betacoronavirus subspecies. The conservation would be sufficient to define target sequences that could, in theory, classify novel virus species into their subspecies. Only 253 upstream non‐coding sequences of Sarbecovirus are sufficient to identify genetic similarities between species of this subgenus. Further, it was investigated which bat species have commercial value in China, and would thus likely be handled for trading purposes. A number of coronavirus genomes have been published that were obtained from such bat species. These bats are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and their handling poses a potential risk to cause zoonotic coronavirus epidemics.

Keywords Sarbecovirus ; Coronavirus; Traditional Chinese Medicine; bats; epidemic; whole-genome comparison; zoonosis

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