Curr. Biol. (2021)

Host–pathogen conflict has driven the rapid evolution of host proteins targeted by pathogens, which mediate interactions between organisms and infectious agents. A third major coronavirus outbreak within the past two decades has motivated extensive research and led to the discovery of hundreds of human proteins that interact with SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses. Souilmi et al. recently examined the genes encoding these virus-interacting proteins (VIPs) and found signatures of past selective sweeps in 42 coronavirus VIPs in three East Asian populations but none of the examined populations outside East Asia. Using the recently developed genealogical reconstruction method RELATE, the authors estimated the time of onset of selection on the VIPs. They found evidence of sustained selection pressure acting between 20,000 and 5,000 years ago, indicating an influential presence of coronaviruses or viruses with similar biology in East Asia within that period. The study represents a novel approach to reconstructing past episodes of adaptation to viral exposure.