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PeerJ. 2018 Nov 28;6:e5979. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5979. eCollection 2018.

Taxonomic patterns in the zoonotic potential of mammalian viruses.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA.
Ecohealth Alliance, New York, NY, USA.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Hamilton, MT, USA.


Predicting and simplifying which pathogens may spill over from animals to humans is a major priority in infectious disease biology. Many efforts to determine which viruses are at risk of spillover use a subset of viral traits to find trait-based associations with spillover. We adapt a new method-phylofactorization-to identify not traits but lineages of viruses at risk of spilling over. Phylofactorization is used to partition the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses viral taxonomy based on non-human host range of viruses and whether there exists evidence the viruses have infected humans. We identify clades on a range of taxonomic levels with high or low propensities to spillover, thereby simplifying the classification of zoonotic potential of mammalian viruses. Phylofactorization by whether a virus is zoonotic yields many disjoint clades of viruses containing few to no representatives that have spilled over to humans. Phylofactorization by non-human host breadth yields several clades with significantly higher host breadth. We connect the phylogenetic factors above with life-histories of clades, revisit trait-based analyses, and illustrate how cladistic coarse-graining of zoonotic potential can refine trait-based analyses by illuminating clade-specific determinants of spillover risk.


Epidemiology; Phylofactorization; Spillover; Viruses; Zoonosis

Conflict of interest statement

Kevin J. Olival is employed by EcoHealth Alliance New York.

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