Project Summary: Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence
Novel zoonotic, bat-origin CoVs are a significant threat to global health and food security, as the cause of
SARS in China in 2002, the ongoing outbreak of MERS, and of a newly emerged Swine Acute Diarrhea
Syndrome in China. In a previous R01 we found that bats in southern China harbor an extraordinary diversity
of SARSr-CoVs, some of which can use human ACE2 to enter cells, infect humanized mouse models causing
SARS-like illness, and evade available therapies or vaccines. We found that people living close to bat habitats
are the primary risk groups for spillover, that at one site diverse SARSr-CoVs exist that contain every genetic
element of the SARS-CoV genome, and identified serological evidence of human exposure among people
living nearby. These findings have led to 18 published peer-reviewed papers, including two papers in
Nature, and a review in Cell. Yet salient questions remain on the origin, diversity, capacity to cause illness,
and risk of spillover of these viruses. In this R01 renewal we will address these issues through 3 specific aims:
Aim 1. Characterize the diversity and distribution of high spillover-risk SARSr-CoVs in bats in southern
China. We will use phylogeographic and viral discovery curve analyses to target additional bat sample
collection and molecular CoV screening to fill in gaps in our previous sampling and fully characterize natural
SARSr-CoV diversity in southern China. We will sequence receptor binding domains (spike proteins) to identify
viruses with the highest potential for spillover which we will include in our experimental investigations (Aim 3).
Aim 2. Community, and clinic-based syndromic, surveillance to capture SARSr-CoV spillover, routes of
exposure and potential public health consequences. We will conduct biological-behavioral surveillance in
high-risk populations, with known bat contact, in community and clinical settings to 1) identify risk factors for
serological and PCR evidence of bat SARSr-CoVs; & 2) assess possible health effects of SARSr-CoVs
infection in people. We will analyze bat-CoV serology against human-wildlife contact and exposure data to
quantify risk factors and health impacts of SARSr-CoV spillover.
Aim 3. In vitro and in vivo characterization of SARSr-CoV spillover risk, coupled with spatial and
phylogenetic analyses to identify the regions and viruses of public health concern. We will use S protein
sequence data, infectious clone technology, in vitro and in vivo infection experiments and analysis of receptor
binding to test the hypothesis that % divergence thresholds in S protein sequences predict spillover potential.
We will combine these data with bat host distribution, viral diversity and phylogeny, human survey of risk
behaviors and illness, and serology to identify SARSr-CoV spillover risk hotspots across southern China.
Together these data and analyses will be critical for the future development of public health interventions and
enhanced surveillance to prevent the re-emergence of SARS or the emergence of a novel SARSr-CoV.