Scientists using computer simulations to study the SARS-CoV-2 virus have found that it is more suited to infecting human cells rather than bats or pangolins. This raises new questions about its origins.
Australian scientists used high-performance computer simulations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus shape at the start of the pandemic to predict its ability to infect humans and 12 domestic and exotic animals.
The goal of the researchers is to identify any intermediate animal vectors that may have played a role in the transmission of the bat virus to humans. In addition, scientists investigated the susceptibility of domestic and commercial animals – dogs, cats, cows, pigs, horses, sheep – to a new type of coronavirus.
Scientists at Flinders University and La Trobe University used genomic data from 12 animal species to build computer models of key ACE2 protein receptors for each species. They were then used to calculate the binding strength of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to the ACE2 receptor of each species.
Surprisingly, the results showed that SARS-CoV-2 binds to ACE2 on human cells more strongly than any of the animal species tested, including bats and dinosaurs. “It looks like the irus is well adapted to human infection,” the scientists note.
Humans showed the strongest adhesion binding, corresponding to high susceptibility to the virus. It is surprising if the animal was the original source of infection in humans.
David Winkler, professor at La Trobe University
The results, originally published on the arXiv preprint server, are now peer-reviewed and published in Scientific Reports.