Biologists have studied in the laboratory the ability of the coronavirus to infect the respiratory tract cells of various animals. It turned out that SARS-CoV-2 infects only monkeys and representatives of the cat family. The results of the study are published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were reports of the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from humans to animals. It was about pets – dogs and cats, zoo inhabitants – lions, tigers, cougars, leopards and gorillas, as well as minks kept on farms. However, it is still not completely known to which types of animals the coronavirus is transmitted from humans, and which are not.
Since, for obvious reasons, it is impossible to conduct direct tests on animals, researchers from the Swiss Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Institute of Virology and Immunology at the University of Bern, together with colleagues from Germany and Costa Rica, proposed to conduct an experiment in a safe way for animals.
To do this, they used a unique collection of cell culture models lining the respiratory tract of various domestic and wild animals, stored at the University of Bern. In total, cell cultures of 12 mammalian species were studied, including rhesus macaque, cat, ferret, dog, pig, rabbit, goats, cattle, llama, camels and two species of bats.
In the laboratory, scientists infected cells with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and tracked the kinetics of its replication in Petri dishes. The results showed that the coronavirus effectively infected only the respiratory cells of cats and monkeys. However, when conducting full-genome sequencing, the researchers did not find obvious signs of nucleotide transitions necessary for the full development of coronavirus infection in animals.
Nevertheless, scientists call for the introduction of special control over the condition of these two groups of animals, as the most vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“Our results, together with previous reports on secondary transitions from humans to animals, require careful observation to determine the potential role of cats, monkeys and closely related species as reservoirs for the secondary spread of SARS-CoV-2,” the authors write.
According to scientists, their proposed method of assessing susceptibility to respiratory infections on the example of epithelial cells has justified itself and can be used as an alternative to conventional animal tests to study the spectrum of SARS-CoV-2 hosts, evaluate the effect of antiviral drugs and vaccines.