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Canine coronavirus behaves differently in humans

Experts at Cornell University have discovered that when coronavirus jumps from dogs to humans, the virus goes through a transition. The researchers have identified a change that occurs in the spike protein during the transfer of canine coronavirus to humans. The research may provide new insight into how coronavirus is transmitted from animals to humans.

“The ongoing coronavirus (CoV) disease (COVID-19) is the third documented animal to human CoV spillover to have resulted in a major epidemic,” noted the researchers.

In 2017, a new canine coronavirus was first identified in a human – a Malaysian patient who developed pneumonia. In 2021, a team of experts isolated and sequenced the canine coronavirus.

Now, in collaboration with researchers at Temple University, the Cornell team has identified a pattern that occurs in a terminus of the canine coronavirus spike protein, which is the part of the virus that allows it to gain entry into cells.

The experts found that the virus shifts from infecting both the intestines and respiratory system of the animal to infecting only the respiratory system in a human.

“This study identifies some of the molecular mechanisms underlying a host shift from dog coronavirus to a new human host, that may also be important in the circulation of a new human coronavirus that we previously didn’t know about,” said study co-author Professor Michael Stanhope.

For the analysis, the researchers used state-of-the-art molecular evolution tools to investigate how pressures from natural selection may have influenced the evolution of the canine coronavirus.

The same canine coronavirus variant found in Malaysia was also reported in a few patients in Haiti in 2021.

Stanhope believes that further research is needed to understand if the viral shifts and jumps to humans occurred spontaneously in different parts of the world or if this coronavirus has been circulating for perhaps many decades in the human population without detection.

The study is published in the journal Viruses.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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