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J Virol. 2017 Aug 10;91(17). pii: e00764-17. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00764-17. Print 2017 Sep 1.

Discovery of a Highly Divergent Coronavirus in the Asian House Shrew from China Illuminates the Origin of the Alphacoronaviruses.

Author information

1
State Key Laboratory for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, Collaborative Innovation Center for Diagnosis and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, Department of Zoonoses, National Institute for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Changping, Beijing, China.
2
Wenzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, China.
3
Ganzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province, China.
4
Wencheng Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Wencheng, Zhejiang Province, China.
5
Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, Charles Perkins Centre, School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
6
State Key Laboratory for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, Collaborative Innovation Center for Diagnosis and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, Department of Zoonoses, National Institute for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Changping, Beijing, China zhangyongzhen@icdc.cn.

Abstract

Although shrews are one of the largest groups of mammals, little is known about their role in the evolution and transmission of viral pathogens, including coronaviruses (CoVs). We captured 266 Asian house shrews (Suncus murinus) in Jiangxi and Zhejiang Provinces, China, during 2013 to 2015. CoV RNA was detected in 24 Asian house shrews, with an overall prevalence of 9.02%. Complete viral genome sequences were successfully recovered from the RNA-positive samples. The newly discovered shrew CoV fell into four lineages reflecting their geographic origins, indicative of largely allopatric evolution. Notably, these viruses were most closely related to alphacoronaviruses but sufficiently divergent that they should be considered a novel member of the genus Alphacoronavirus, which we denote Wénchéng shrew virus (WESV). Phylogenetic analysis revealed that WESV was a highly divergent member of the alphacoronaviruses and, more dramatically, that the S gene of WESV fell in a cluster that was genetically distinct from that of known coronaviruses. The divergent position of WESV suggests that coronaviruses have a long association with Asian house shrews. In addition, the genome of WESV contains a distinct NS7 gene that exhibits no sequence similarity to genes of any known viruses. Together, these data suggest that shrews are natural reservoirs for coronaviruses and may have played an important and long-term role in CoV evolution.IMPORTANCE The subfamily Coronavirinae contains several notorious human and animal pathogens, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. Because of their genetic diversity and phylogenetic relationships, it has been proposed that the alphacoronaviruses likely have their ultimate ancestry in the viruses residing in bats. Here, we describe a novel alphacoronavirus (Wénchéng shrew virus [WESV]) that was sampled from Asian house shrews in China. Notably, WESV is a highly divergent member of the alphacoronaviruses and possesses an S gene that is genetically distinct from those of all known coronaviruses. In addition, the genome of WESV contains a distinct NS7 gene that exhibits no sequence similarity to those of any known viruses. Together, these data suggest that shrews are important and longstanding hosts for coronaviruses that merit additional research and surveillance.

KEYWORDS:

Asian house shrew; alphacoronavirus; coronavirus; evolution; phylogeny; recombination

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