Molecular identification of Betacoronavirus in bats from Sardinia (Italy): first detection and phylogeny
Bats may be natural reservoirs for a large variety of emerging viruses, including mammalian coronaviruses (CoV). The recent emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in humans, with evidence that these viruses may have their ancestry in bats, highlights the importance of virus surveillance in bat populations. Here, we report the identification and molecular characterization of a bat β-Coronavirus, detected during a viral survey carried out on different bat species in the island of Sardinia (Italy). Cutaneous, oral swabs, and faecal samples were collected from 46 bats, belonging to 15 different species, and tested for viral presence. Coronavirus RNA was detected in faecal samples from three different species: the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), the brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus), and the European free-tailed bat (Tadarida teniotis). Phylogenetic analyses based on RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) sequences assigned the detected CoV to clade 2b within betacoronaviruses, clustering with SARS-like bat CoVs previously reported. These findings point to the need for continued surveillance of bat CoV circulating in Sardinian bats, and extend the current knowledge on CoV ecology with novel sequences detected in bat species not previously described as β-Coronavirus hosts.
KeywordsBats Coronavirus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase Rhinolophus ferrumequinum Sardinia
We thank Luca Montanaro, Gaetano Fichera Enrico Melis, and Manuele Bardi Lecis for their support in the field and technical support.
RL and AA conceived the study; RL conducted field and lab study and analyzed sequence data; MM and EP provided bat samples; RL drafted the manuscript; MP and AA reviewed the ms. All authors revised and approved the manuscript.
This research was cofunded by the University of Sassari (Italy), PhD course in Life Sciences and Biotechnologies, and Regione Sardegna.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All international, national and institutional guidelines for the care of sampled animals were followed. Samples were collected under ethical and capture permits: “Autorizzazione Ministero Ambiente e Tutela del Territorio e del Mare 0007134 PNM (08/04/2016, DIV II)”, and “Autorizzazione Regione Autonoma della Sardegna, Assessorato Difesa dell’Ambiente, Det. 7325 Rep. N. 171 (13/04/2016)”.
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