Pangolin - Guilty or Not Guilty?
This is a short post highlighting two recent papers making contradictory claims. Are they both correct?
In Probable Pangolin Origin of SARS-CoV-2 Associated with the COVID-19 Outbreak, Tao Zhang et al. wrote -
An outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) began in the city of Wuhan in China and has widely spread worldwide. Currently, it is vital to explore potential intermediate hosts of SARS-CoV-2 to control COVID-19 spread. Therefore, we reinvestigated published data from pangolin lung samples from which SARS-CoV-like CoVs were detected by Liu et al. . We found genomic and evolutionary evidence of the occurrence of a SARS-CoV-2-like CoV (named Pangolin-CoV) in dead Malayan pangolins. Pangolin-CoV is 91.02% and 90.55% identical to SARS-CoV-2 and BatCoV RaTG13, respectively, at the whole-genome level. Aside from RaTG13, Pangolin-CoV is the most closely related CoV to SARS-CoV-2. The S1 protein of Pangolin-CoV is much more closely related to SARS-CoV-2 than to RaTG13. Five key amino acid residues involved in the interaction with human ACE2 are completely consistent between Pangolin-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, but four amino acid mutations are present in RaTG13. Both Pangolin-CoV and RaTG13 lost the putative furin recognition sequence motif at S1/S2 cleavage site that can be observed in the SARS-CoV-2. Conclusively, this study suggests that pangolin species are a natural reservoir of SARS-CoV-2-like CoVs.
In Are pangolins the intermediate host of the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)?, Ping Liu et al wrote -
The outbreak of a novel corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the city of Wuhan, China has resulted in more than 1.7 million laboratory confirmed cases all over the world. Recent studies showed that SARS-CoV-2 was likely originated from bats, but its intermediate hosts are still largely unknown. In this study, we assembled the complete genome of a coronavirus identified in 3 sick Malayan pangolins. The molecular and phylogenetic analyses showed that this pangolin coronavirus (pangolin-CoV-2020) is genetically related to the SARS-CoV-2 as well as a group of bat coronaviruses but do not support the SARS-CoV-2 emerged directly from the pangolin-CoV-2020. Our study suggests that pangolins are natural hosts of Betacoronaviruses. Large surveillance of coronaviruses in pangolins could improve our understanding of the spectrum of coronaviruses in pangolins. In addition to conservation of wildlife, minimizing the exposures of humans to wildlife will be important to reduce the spillover risks of coronaviruses from wild animals to humans.
Is Pangolin guilty or not guilty? I will resolve this in a follow-up post, but you get clues to the answer in Did SARS-1.0 Come from Bats Through Civets?.