Cats, rabbits and hedgehogs have all been implicated in a new study that aims to predict the animals most likely to launch the next deadly COVID-19 outbreak. With the help of artificial intelligence, biologists were able to design a prediction model that could prioritize potential hosts of virus strains already known to exist, but have not yet reached humans. “We want to know where the next coronavirus might come from,” said Dr. Marcus Blagrove, a University of Liverpool virologist who worked on the study. Their findings describe how artificial intelligence was used to predict previously unsuspected animal hosts of a novel — and potentially deadly — coronavirus strain. Animals such as the civet, common hedgehog, European rabbit, dromedary camel, some primate species and domesticated pigs and cats were named prime suspects for recombination of SARS-CoV2 — the strain that caused COVID-19 — with perhaps dozens of other coronaviruses. These creatures join the list of usual suspects, including bats and pangolins. Recombination has already been observed in some of these species, according to previous studies. But to identify novel sources for those as-yet undiscovered “daughter” strains, the algorithm based its assessment on biologic similarities between known hosts and their related species.
Photo Credit: BBC / University of Liverpool