Exploring human-animal host interactions and emergence of COVID-19: Evolutionary and ecological dynamics

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The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that emerged in December 2019 had caused substantial morbidity and mortality at the global level within few months. It affected economies, stopped travel, and isolated individuals and populations around the world. Wildlife, especially bats, serve as reservoirs of coronaviruses from which the variant Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged that causes COVID-19. In this review, we describe the current knowledge on COVID-19 and the significance of wildlife hosts in its emergence. Mammalian and avian coronaviruses have diverse host ranges with distinct lineages of coronaviruses. Recombination and reassortments occur more frequently in mixed-animal markets where diverse viral genotypes intermingle. Human coronaviruses have evolved through gene gains and losses primarily in interfaces where wildlife and humans come in frequent contact. There is a gap in our understanding of bats as reservoirs of coronaviruses and there is a misconception that bats periodically transmit coronaviruses to humans. Future research should investigate bat viral diversity and loads at interfaces between humans and bats. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to evaluate viral strains circulating in mixed animal markets, where the coronaviruses circulated before becoming adapted to humans. We propose and discuss a management intervention plan for COVID-19 and raise questions on the suitability of current containment plans. We anticipate that more virulent coronaviruses could emerge unless proper measures are taken to limit interactions between diverse wildlife and humans in wild animal markets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1417-1425
Number of pages9
JournalSaudi Journal of Biological Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Animal reservoir
  • COVID-19
  • Interspecies transmission
  • MERS-CoV
  • SARS-CoV
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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