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Bisha Bat Signals Multiple Species / Human MERS Introductions
Recombinomics Commentary 04:45
August 22, 2013

Sequence fragments for five bat samples collected in 2012 and 2013 in on Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have been released at Genbank (see sequences here, here, here, here, and here) in association with the EID paper on KSA bat coronavirus sequences.  The four samples collected in 2013 included three from Bisha and one from Riyadh, but only the 2012 sample from Bisha (Taper/CII_KSA_287/Bisha/Saudi Arabia/2012 collected October 14) matched the human MERS-CoV sequences. 

The EID paper presented a phylogenetic tree representing positions 15068-15249 of the EMC/12 sequence, which demonstrated identity between the bat and human sequence.  However, the bat sequence at Genbank was 203 BP representing positions 15057-15259 and was also identical to EMC/12.  As noted earlier, this region included T15196C, which is uniquely found in EMC/12, which is from the first confirmed MERS-CoV case (60M) who lived in Bisha <12 km from the location of the bat, who was nesting in Bisha ruins.

The presence of T15196C in the bat sequence suggests that the role of the bats in the Bisha infection is recent.  The bat species (
Taphozous perforatus) is more common in Africa and India (see map here) and the distribution in KSA is limited to a small area encompassing Bisha (which is near Jeddah, where the patient was treated and died).  The Bisha sequences are most closely related to the sequences from Jordan (Jordan-N3), raising concerns that the MERS-CoV sequences are in multiple bat species. 

The Bisha/Jordan sequences are distinct from the other human MERS-CoV which form two distinct branches, with England1/Essen forming one branch and England2/Al Hasa forming the other branch.  These two additional groups suggest there are multiple introductions into humans which may involve multiple bat species which may impact humans via intermediary hosts.

21 additional human MERS-CoV sequences are expected to be released in the next few days, which may define additional sub-groups and additional animal species. 

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