Letter | Published:

Host and viral traits predict zoonotic spillover from mammals

Nature volume 546, pages 646650 (29 June 2017) | Download Citation

  • An Erratum to this article was published on 23 August 2017

Abstract

The majority of human emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, with viruses that originate in wild mammals of particular concern (for example, HIV, Ebola and SARS)1,2,3. Understanding patterns of viral diversity in wildlife and determinants of successful cross-species transmission, or spillover, are therefore key goals for pandemic surveillance programs4. However, few analytical tools exist to identify which host species are likely to harbour the next human virus, or which viruses can cross species boundaries5,6,7. Here we conduct a comprehensive analysis of mammalian host–virus relationships and show that both the total number of viruses that infect a given species and the proportion likely to be zoonotic are predictable. After controlling for research effort, the proportion of zoonotic viruses per species is predicted by phylogenetic relatedness to humans, host taxonomy and human population within a species range—which may reflect human–wildlife contact. We demonstrate that bats harbour a significantly higher proportion of zoonotic viruses than all other mammalian orders. We also identify the taxa and geographic regions with the largest estimated number of ‘missing viruses’ and ‘missing zoonoses’ and therefore of highest value for future surveillance. We then show that phylogenetic host breadth and other viral traits are significant predictors of zoonotic potential, providing a novel framework to assess if a newly discovered mammalian virus could infect people.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program; and NIH NIAID awards R01AI079231 and R01AI110964. The authors thank C. N. Basaraba, J. Baxter, L. Brierley, E. A. Hagan, J. Levinson, E. H. Loh, L. Mendiola, N. Wale and A. R. Willoughby for assistance with data collection, and B. M. Bolker, A. R. Ives, K. E. Jones, C. K. Johnson, A. M. Kilpatrick, J. A. K. Mazet and M. E. J. Woolhouse for comments.

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  1. EcoHealth Alliance, 460 West 34th Street, New York, New York 10001, USA

    • Kevin J. Olival
    • , Parviez R. Hosseini
    • , Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio
    • , Noam Ross
    • , Tiffany L. Bogich
    •  & Peter Daszak

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Contributions

K.J.O., T.L.B. and P.D. designed the study and supervised the collection of data. N.R., P.R.H. and K.J.O. designed the statistical approach, wrote the code, and generated figures. K.J.O. performed phylogenetic analyses. C.Z.-T. performed spatial analyses. All authors were involved in writing the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Kevin J. Olival or Peter Daszak.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks J. Dushoff and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22975

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