A review of studies on animal reservoirs of the SARS coronavirus

Zhengli Shi, Zhihong Hu
Virus Research 2008, 133 (1): 74-87
In this review, we summarize the researches on animal reservoirs of the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Masked palm civets were suspected as the origin of the SARS outbreak in 2003 and was confirmed as the direct origin of SARS cases with mild symptom in 2004. Sequence analysis of the SARS-CoV-like virus in masked palm civets indicated that they were highly homologous to human SARS-CoV with nt identity over 99.6%, indicating the virus has not been circulating in the population of masked palm civets for a very long time. Alignment of 10 complete viral genome sequences from masked palm civets with those of human SARS-CoVs revealed 26 conserved single-nucleotide variations (SNVs) in the viruses from masked palm civets. These conserved SNVs were gradually lost from the genomes of viruses isolated from the early phase to late phase human patients of the 2003 SARS epidemic. In 2005, horseshoe bats were identified as the natural reservoir of a group of coronaviruses that are distantly related to SARS-CoV. The genome sequences of bat SARS-like coronavirus had about 88-92% nt identity with that of the SARS-CoV. The prevalence of antibodies and viral RNA in different bat species and the characteristics of the bat SARS-like coronavirus were elucidated. Apart from masked palm civets and bats, 29 other animal species had been tested for the SARS-CoV, and the results are summarized in this paper.

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