A case for the ancient origin of coronaviruses

J Virol. 2013 Jun;87(12):7039-45. doi: 10.1128/JVI.03273-12. Epub 2013 Apr 17.


Coronaviruses are found in a diverse array of bat and bird species, which are believed to act as natural hosts. Molecular clock dating analyses of coronaviruses suggest that the most recent common ancestor of these viruses existed around 10,000 years ago. This relatively young age is in sharp contrast to the ancient evolutionary history of their putative natural hosts, which began diversifying tens of millions of years ago. Here, we attempted to resolve this discrepancy by applying more realistic evolutionary models that have previously revealed the ancient evolutionary history of other RNA viruses. By explicitly modeling variation in the strength of natural selection over time and thereby improving the modeling of substitution saturation, we found that the time to the most recent ancestor common for all coronaviruses is likely far greater (millions of years) than the previously inferred range.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / virology*
  • Chiroptera / virology*
  • Computational Biology
  • Coronavirus / classification
  • Coronavirus / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Viral
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / genetics


  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Proteins