Variation in predicted COVID-19 risk among lemurs and lorises
Amanda D Melin,
Joseph D Orkin,
Mareike C Janiak,
Lukas FK Kuderna,
Julie E Horvath,
Andrew C. Kitchener,
Chiea Chuen Khor,
Weng Khong Lim,
Jessica GH Lee,
R. Alan Harris,
Steig E Johnson,
Erich D Jarvis,
Kyle Kai-How Farh,
Paramjit S Arora,
James P Higham
Posted 03 Feb 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.03.429540
Posted 03 Feb 2021
The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which in humans leads to the disease COVID-19, has caused global disruption and more than 1.5 million fatalities since it first emerged in late 2019. As we write, infection rates are currently at their highest point globally and are rising extremely rapidly in some areas due to more infectious variants. The primary viral target is the cellular receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2). Recent sequence analyses of the ACE2 gene predicts that many nonhuman primates are also likely to be highly susceptible to infection. However, the anticipated risk is not equal across the Order. Furthermore, some taxonomic groups show high ACE2 amino acid conservation, while others exhibit high variability at this locus. As an example of the latter, analyses of strepsirrhine primate ACE2 sequences to date indicate large variation among lemurs and lorises compared to other primate clades despite low sampling effort. Here, we report ACE2 gene and protein sequences for 71 individual strepsirrhines, spanning 51 species and 19 genera. Our study reinforces previous results and finds additional variability in other strepsirrhine species, and suggests several clades of lemurs have high potential susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Troublingly, some species, including the rare and Endangered aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), as well as those in the genera Avahi and Propithecus, may be at high risk. Given that lemurs are endemic to Madagascar and among the primates at highest risk of extinction globally, further understanding of the potential threat of COVID-19 to their health should be a conservation priority. All feasible actions should be taken to limit their exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
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