Rousette bats: a coronavirus reservoir

Updated: Feb 12

Today we release a chromosome-length genome assembly for the Madagascar rousette (Rousettus madagascariensis), a small Malagasy fruit bat, one of ten species in the genus. Rousettus is an old world fruit bat of the family Pteropodidae, like the Madagascar flying fox (Pteropus rufus), whose genome we released at the end of 2019.[i] Members of the family Pteropodidae have been known to be natural hosts for many different types of viruses.

We have worked to release this genome as soon as possible in light of the Wuhan coronavirus nCoV-2019 [ii], which, as of this writing, has infected over 17,000 people, with an early case fatality rate of approximately 2%.[iii] Two weeks ago, an analysis of Wuhan and SARS coronavirus genomes by Xu et al.[iv] came to the conclusion that the human viral sequence is most closely related to a nonhuman viral sequence known as HKU-9-1. HKU-9-1, also known as “Rousettus bat coronavirus”, was first isolated from a bat in genus Rousettus. As such we believe that the reference genome for a species in this genus – even one endemic to Madagascar rather than China – could be relevant to studies of the coronavirus and its reservoir.

Ekipa Fanihy (“Team Fruit Bat” in Malagasy, the native language of Madagascar), led by Dr. Cara Brook (https://carabrook.github.io/team.html) has been studying the dynamics of viral infection in Malagasy fruit bats since 2013. Old World Fruit Bats have been disproportionately linked to the emergence of human viruses in the past two decades, serving as reservoir hosts for rabies and related lyssaviruses, Hendra and Nipah henipaviruses, Ebola and Marburg filoviruses, and the SARS coronavirus[v] [vi]. Several genomic analyses have demonstrated unique adaptations related to the evolution of flight which appear to have elongated bat lifespans and also made them resilient to many of the pathogenic effects of viral hosting.[vii],[viii],[ix] It has also been demonstrated that several zoonotic virus families circulate specifically in the Malagasy bats.[x] DNA Zoo is assembling bat genomes, including all the Madagascar fruit bats, in order to learn more about the mechanisms which underlie these bats’ unique viral tolerance. If you have samples from potential bat vector species, we’d love to be in touch. (Aviva Presser Aiden - Aviva.Aiden@bcm.edu)

Assembly of this genome was financed by the DNA Zoo and NIH grant (R01-AI129822-01) administered by Dr. Jean-Michel Héraud of Institut Pasteur of Madagascar and Dr. Cara Brook of UC Berkeley (link: http://grantome.com/grant/NIH/R01-AI129822-01).

Ekipa Fanihy is affiliated with UC Berkeley (link: https://ib.berkeley.edu/), the University of Antananarivo (link: http://www.univ-antananarivo.mg/), and Institut Pasteur of Madagascar (link: http://www.pasteur.mg/).


Aviva Presser Aiden, Cara Brook, Olga Dudchenko


[i] E.C. Teeling, M.S. Springer, O. Madsen, P. Bates, S.J. O’brien, W.J. Murphy, A molecular phylogeny for bats illuminates biogeography and the fossil record., Science (80-. ). 307 (2005) 580–4. doi:10.1126/science.1105113.


[ii] Zhou, P. et al. “Discovery of a novel coronavirus associated with the recent pneumonia outbreak in humans and its potential bat origin” Biorxiv, doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.22.914952


[iii] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ accessed 2/3/2020


[iv] Xu, X, et al. Evolution of the novel coronavirus from the ongoing Wuhan outbreak and modeling of its spike protein for risk of human transmission. SCIENCE CHINA Life Sciences; doi: 10.1007/s11427-020-1637-5


[v] C.H. Calisher, J.E. Childs, H.E. Field, K. V Holmes, T. Schountz, Bats: Important reservoir hosts of emerging viruses, Clin. Microbiol. Rev. 19 (2006) 531–45. doi:10.1128/CMR.00017-06.


[vi] C.E. Brook, A.P. Dobson, Bats as “special” reservoirs for emerging zoonotic pathogens, Trends Microbiol. 23 (2015) 172–180. doi:10.1016/j.tim.2014.12.004.


[vii] S.S. Pavlovich, S.P. Lovett, G. Koroleva, J.C. Guito, C.E. Arnold, E.R. Nagle, K. Kulcsar, A. Lee, F. Thibaud-Nissen, A.J. Hume, E. Mühlberger, L.S. Uebelhoer, J.S. Towner, R. Rabadan, M. Sanchez-Lockhart, T.B. Kepler, G. Palacios, The Egyptian Rousette genome reveals unexpected features of bat antiviral immunity, Cell. 173 (2018) 1–13. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2018.03.070


[viii] G. Zhang, C. Cowled, Z. Shi, Z. Huang, K. a Bishop-Lilly, X. Fang, J.W. Wynne, Z. Xiong, M.L. Baker, W. Zhao, M. Tachedjian, Y. Zhu, P. Zhou, X. Jiang, J. Ng, L. Yang, L. Wu, J. Xiao, Y. Feng, Y. Chen, X. Sun, Y. Zhang, G. a Marsh, G. Crameri, C.C. Broder, K.G. Frey, L.-F. Wang, J. Wang, Comparative analysis of bat genomes provides insight into the evolution of flight and immunity, Science. 339 (2013) 456–60. doi:10.1126/science.1230835.


[ix] I. Seim, X. Fang, Z. Xiong, A. V Lobanov, Z. Huang, S. Ma, Y. Feng, A. a Turanov, Y. Zhu, T.L. Lenz, M. V Gerashchenko, D. Fan, S. Hee Yim, X. Yao, D. Jordan, Y. Xiong, Y. Ma, A.N. Lyapunov, G. Chen, O.I. Kulakova, Y. Sun, S.-G. Lee, R.T. Bronson, A. a Moskalev, S.R. Sunyaev, G. Zhang, A. Krogh, J. Wang, V.N. Gladyshev, Genome analysis reveals insights into physiology and longevity of the Brandt’s bat Myotis brandtii., Nat. Commun. 4 (2013) 2212. doi:10.1038/ncomms3212.


[x] C.E. Brook, H.C. Ranaivoson, C.C. Broder, A.A. Cunningham, J.-M. Héraud, A.J. Peel, L. Gibson, J.L.N. Wood, C.J. Metcalf, A.P. Dobson, Disentangling serology to elucidate henipa- and filovirus transmission in Madagascar fruit bats, J. Anim. Ecol. 00 (2019) 1– 16. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12985.

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