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A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence

Nature Medicine volume 21, pages 15081513 (2015) | Download Citation

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 06 April 2016

This article has been updated


The emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-CoV underscores the threat of cross-species transmission events leading to outbreaks in humans. Here we examine the disease potential of a SARS-like virus, SHC014-CoV, which is currently circulating in Chinese horseshoe bat populations1. Using the SARS-CoV reverse genetics system2, we generated and characterized a chimeric virus expressing the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014 in a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV backbone. The results indicate that group 2b viruses encoding the SHC014 spike in a wild-type backbone can efficiently use multiple orthologs of the SARS receptor human angiotensin converting enzyme II (ACE2), replicate efficiently in primary human airway cells and achieve in vitro titers equivalent to epidemic strains of SARS-CoV. Additionally, in vivo experiments demonstrate replication of the chimeric virus in mouse lung with notable pathogenesis. Evaluation of available SARS-based immune-therapeutic and prophylactic modalities revealed poor efficacy; both monoclonal antibody and vaccine approaches failed to neutralize and protect from infection with CoVs using the novel spike protein. On the basis of these findings, we synthetically re-derived an infectious full-length SHC014 recombinant virus and demonstrate robust viral replication both in vitro and in vivo. Our work suggests a potential risk of SARS-CoV re-emergence from viruses currently circulating in bat populations.

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Change history

  • 20 November 2015

    In the version of this article initially published online, the authors omitted to acknowledge a funding source, USAID-EPT-PREDICT funding from EcoHealth Alliance, to Z.-L.S. The error has been corrected for the print, PDF and HTML versions of this article.


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Research in this manuscript was supported by grants from the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Disease and the National Institute of Aging of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) under awards U19AI109761 (R.S.B.), U19AI107810 (R.S.B.), AI085524 (W.A.M.), F32AI102561 (V.D.M.) and K99AG049092 (V.D.M.), and by the National Natural Science Foundation of China awards 81290341 (Z.-L.S.) and 31470260 (X.-Y.G.), and by USAID-EPT-PREDICT funding from EcoHealth Alliance (Z.-L.S.). Human airway epithelial cultures were supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease of the NIH under award NIH DK065988 (S.H.R.). We also thank M.T. Ferris (Dept. of Genetics, University of North Carolina) for the reviewing of statistical approaches and C.T. Tseng (Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Texas Medical Branch) for providing Calu-3 cells. Experiments with the full-length and chimeric SHC014 recombinant viruses were initiated and performed before the GOF research funding pause and have since been reviewed and approved for continued study by the NIH. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Author information


  1. Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

    • Vineet D Menachery
    • , Boyd L Yount Jr
    • , Kari Debbink
    • , Lisa E Gralinski
    • , Jessica A Plante
    • , Rachel L Graham
    • , Trevor Scobey
    • , Eric F Donaldson
    •  & Ralph S Baric
  2. Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

    • Kari Debbink
    •  & Ralph S Baric
  3. National Center for Toxicological Research, Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, Arkansas, USA.

    • Sudhakar Agnihothram
  4. Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, China.

    • Xing-Yi Ge
    •  & Zhengli-Li Shi
  5. Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

    • Scott H Randell
  6. Cystic Fibrosis Center, Marsico Lung Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

    • Scott H Randell
  7. Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Bellinzona Institute of Microbiology, Zurich, Switzerland.

    • Antonio Lanzavecchia
  8. Department of Cancer Immunology and AIDS, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Wayne A Marasco
  9. Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Wayne A Marasco


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V.D.M. designed, coordinated and performed experiments, completed analysis and wrote the manuscript. B.L.Y. designed the infectious clone and recovered chimeric viruses; S.A. completed neutralization assays; L.E.G. helped perform mouse experiments; T.S. and J.A.P. completed mouse experiments and plaque assays; X.-Y.G. performed pseudotyping experiments; K.D. generated structural figures and predictions; E.F.D. generated phylogenetic analysis; R.L.G. completed RNA analysis; S.H.R. provided primary HAE cultures; A.L. and W.A.M. provided critical monoclonal antibody reagents; and Z.-L.S. provided SHC014 spike sequences and plasmids. R.S.B. designed experiments and wrote manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Vineet D Menachery or Ralph S Baric.

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