Zoonotic potential of a pangolin coronavirus
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and its variants, causing the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic resulting in more than 6.9 million death worldwide, emerged in southern China and continues to thrive globally. The origin of SARS-CoV-2 has been a topic of much scientific — and political — debate since the beginning of the outbreak, yet the direct intermediate species remains elusive. Bats are natural hosts of many coronaviruses, and the recently identified bat coronavirus (bCoV) BANAL-52, isolated from the horseshoe bat, remains the closest match to the SARS-CoV-2 WA1 strain with a sequence similarity of about 96% (ref. 1). However, bCoVs have limited infectivity and replication in human cells2, implying that cross-species transmission of bCoVs to humans would more likely occur via infection of intermediate hosts. Apart from bats, Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica) have become a subject of interest as a potential intermediate for zoonotic spillover because they also harbour coronaviruses and are the world’s most trafficked mammal3.