A Cross Sectional Sampling Reveals Novel Coronaviruses in Bat Populations of Georgia

Abstract

Mammal-associated coronaviruses have a long evolutionary history across global bat populations, which makes them prone to be the most likely ancestral origins of coronavirus-associated epidemics and pandemics globally. Limited coronavirus research has occurred at the junction of Europe and Asia, thereby investigations in Georgia are critical to complete the coronavirus diversity map in the region. We conducted a cross-sectional coronavirus survey in bat populations at eight locations of Georgia, from July to October of 2014. We tested 188 anal swab samples, remains of previous pathogen discovery studies, for the presence of coronaviruses using end-point pan-coronavirus RT-PCR assays. Samples positive for a 440 bp amplicon were Sanger sequenced to infer coronavirus subgenus or species through phylogenetic reconstructions. Overall, we found a 24.5% positive rate, with 10.1% for Alphacoronavirus and 14.4% for Betacoronavirus. Albeit R. euryale, R. ferrumequinum, M. blythii and M. emarginatus were found infected with both CoV genera, we could not rule out CoV co-infection due to limitation of the sequencing method used and sample availability. Based on phylogenetic inferences and genetic distances at nucleotide and amino acid levels, we found one putative new subgenus and three new species of Alphacoronavirus, and two new species of Betacoronavirus.

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Citation

Urushadze, L.; Babuadze, G.; Shi, M.; Escobar, L.E.; Mauldin, M.R.; Natradeze, I.; Machablishvili, A.; Kutateladze, T.; Imnadze, P.; Nakazawa, Y.; Velasco-Villa, A. A Cross Sectional Sampling Reveals Novel Coronaviruses in Bat Populations of Georgia. Viruses 2021, 14, 72.