Global studies on “vulnerability of animals to Covid-19”

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A lion at Chennai’s Vandalur Zoo has died of suspected coronavirus infection. Similarly, a tiger died at Jharkhand’s Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park after suffering from fever. This sparked the debate regarding the study of the vulnerability of animals to Covid-19.

Mechanism of Coronavirus Infection:
  • The coronavirus initiates infection using the spike protein on its surface. On the surface of the human cell are proteins called ACE2 receptors. The spike protein binds with the ACE2 receptor, then invades the cell and goes on to replicate.
  • Different species express ACE2 to different extents and this plays a key role in determining how much a species is susceptible to coronavirus infection.
Global studies on vulnerability of animals to Covid-19:

A study by PLOS Computational Biology regarding vulnerability of animals to Covid-19:

  • Research: In December 2020, researchers looked at the ACE2 receptors of 10 different species and compared their affinity for binding with the virus spike protein.
  • Method: The researchers used computer modelling to test this. They compared the “codon adaptation index” which is a measure of how efficiently the virus replicates after entering the cell.
  • Findings: The most vulnerable species to coronavirus infection next to humans are ferrets followed by cats and civets.

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A study by PNAS, a research journal of US:

Researchers studied a detailed genomic analysis of the relative coronavirus risks faced by 410 species.

  • Method: In humans, 25 amino acids of ACE2 are important for the virus to bind with the cell. The researchers used modelling to evaluate how many of these 25 are found in the ACE2 of other species. The more the matches with the human ACE2, the lower the risk of infection.
  • Findings:
    • At very high risk are primates such as chimpanzee, rhesus macaque.
    • At high risk are species such as blue-eyed black lemur.
    • Cats were found to have medium risk, while dogs had a low risk.

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A study by the University of Bologna regarding vulnerability of animals to Covid-19:
  • Researchers at the University of Bologna collected tissues from six cats and a tiger. They found wide expression of ACE2 in their gastrointestinal tracts. This was more prominent in the cats than in the tiger.

Source: Indian Express


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