Wildlife & Biodiversity

Endangered animals may be at risk from COVID-19. says study

Species including gorillas, orangutans, whales, dolphins among those highlighted by study as being at risk

Last Updated: Monday 24 August 2020

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread across the globe, infecting millions and killing thousands daily. But, humans are not the only species affected by the pandemic.

Animal species, including some of the most endangered ones, are also susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, according to a new study. The research was conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis, in the United States and has been published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

The researchers compared ACE2 (angiotensin converting enzyme-2) receptor proteins in humans with 410 species of vertebrates, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. The ACE2 is found on different types of cells and tissues, including epithelial cells in the nose, mouth and lungs. 

The SARS-CoV-2 virus uses 25 amino acids present in the ACE2 receptors to bind and enter human cells. Animals, that have the 25 amino acids similar to  humans, are believed to be at the highest risk for SARS-CoV-2  infection through ACE2.

The risk of infection through ACE2 reduces when the amino acids in animals differ from humans. 

About 40 per cent of the species potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 are classified as ‘Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They include Critically Endangered primate species such as the Western lowland gorilla, Sumatran orangutan and Northern white-cheeked gibbon.

Marine mammals like gray whales and bottlenose dolphins and Chinese hamsters are also at high risk. Domestic animals like cats, cattle and sheep are at medium risk and dogs, horses and pigs were found to have low risk.

These prediction are based on computer simulations and the actual risk can only be predicted using experimental data, the scientists said.

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