Urgent Need for Field Surveys of Coronaviruses in Southeast Asia to Understand the SARS-CoV-2 Phylogeny and Risk Assessment for the Future Outbreaks

Phylogeny is a statistical approach displaying the evolutionary history of a genetically related group of organisms with the fundamental prerequisite of the utilization of a significant sample size that could represent the whole population under investigation. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) phylogeny analyses are based on a single isolate of BatCoVs, which is not a sufficient representation of genetically related CoVs. For instance, the unique Bat-CoV RaTG13 sequence that is genetically associated with SARS-CoV-2 was isolated from Yunnan, China, in 2013. To date, no other RaTG13 sequence has been obtained in a different time (temporal), place (spatial), or other host condition. Data scarcity of Bat-CoVs sequences raises concern on the several fundamental experimental and biostatistical aspects, e.g. repeatability of the sequences and intraspecies variation of critical genes, such as the receptor-binding domain of Spike protein. Sunda pangolin has been proposed as the intermediate host and source of SARS-CoV-2, but no Pangolin-CoV isolates have been isolated in Southeast Asia, where Sunda pangolins inhabit. Most Pangolin-CoVs were isolated from deceased pangolins, that were captured during illegal animal trafficking into China, hence raising questions about the reliability and quality of such isolates. Pangolin-CoV sampling problems are also evident in the deposited sequences that are of sub-standard quality. Therefore, there is urgent need for survey the Bat-CoVs and possible intermediate hosts, such as pangolins and civets in Southeast Asia. These surveys are required to investigate the genomic source of SARS-CoV-2 and assess possible future risks for new outbreaks. The current SARS-CoV-2 phylogeny with unacceptably limited numbers of Bat-CoVs and Pangolin-CoVs sequences not sufficient and technically not appropriate for reliable phylogenic analysis.
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