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Isolation of SARS-CoV-2-related coronavirus from Malayan pangolins


The outbreak of COVID-19 poses unprecedent challenges to global health1. The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, shares high sequence identity to SARS-CoV and a bat coronavirus RaTG132. While bats may be the reservoir host for various coronaviruses3,4, whether SARS-CoV-2 has other hosts remains ambiguous. In this study, one coronavirus isolated from a Malayan pangolin showed 100%, 98.6%, 97.8% and 90.7% amino acid identity with SARS-CoV-2 in the E, M, N and S genes, respectively. In particular, the receptor-binding domain within the S protein of the Pangolin-CoV is virtually identical to that of SARS-CoV-2, with one noncritical amino acid difference. Results of comparative genomic analysis suggest that SARS-CoV-2 might have originated from the recombination of a Pangolin-CoV-like virus with a Bat-CoV-RaTG13-like virus. The Pangolin-CoV was detected in 17 of 25 Malayan pangolins analyzed. Infected pangolins showed clinical signs and histological changes, and circulating antibodies against Pangolin-CoV reacted with the S protein of SARS-CoV-2. The isolation of a coronavirus that is highly related to SARS-CoV-2 in pangolins suggests that they have the potential to act as the intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2. The newly identified coronavirus in the most-trafficked mammal could represent a future threat to public health if wildlife trade is not effectively controlled.

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Correspondence to Wu Chen or Lihua Xiao or Yongyi Shen.

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Xiao, K., Zhai, J., Feng, Y. et al. Isolation of SARS-CoV-2-related coronavirus from Malayan pangolins. Nature (2020).

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