Detection of a novel and highly divergent coronavirus from asian leopard cats and Chinese ferret badgers in Southern China

B Q Dong, W Liu, X H Fan, D Vijaykrishna, X C Tang, F Gao, L F Li, G J Li, J X Zhang, L Q Yang, L L M Poon, S Y Zhang, J S M Peiris, G J D Smith, H Chen, Y Guan
Journal of Virology 2007, 81 (13): 6920-6
Since an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was averted in 2004, many novel coronaviruses have been recognized from different species, including humans. Bats have provided the most diverse assemblages of coronaviruses, suggesting that they may be the natural reservoir. Continued virological surveillance has proven to be the best way to avert this infectious disease at the source. Here we provide the first description of a previously unidentified coronavirus lineage detected from wild Asian leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis) and Chinese ferret badgers (Melogale moschata) during virological surveillance in southern China. Partial genome analysis revealed a typical coronavirus genome but with a unique putative accessory gene organization. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that the envelope, membrane, and nucleoprotein structural proteins and the two conserved replicase domains, putative RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and RNA helicase, of these novel coronaviruses were most closely related to those of group 3 coronaviruses identified from birds, while the spike protein gene was most closely related to that of group 1 coronaviruses from mammals. However, these viruses always fell into an outgroup phylogenetic relationship with respect to other coronaviruses and had low amino acid similarity to all known coronavirus groups, indicating that they diverged early in the evolutionary history of coronaviruses. These results suggest that these viruses may represent a previously unrecognized evolutionary pathway, or possibly an unidentified coronavirus group. This study demonstrates the importance of systematic virological surveillance in market animals for understanding the evolution and emergence of viruses with infectious potential.


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