Diversity of Dromedary Camel Coronavirus HKU23 in African Camels Revealed Multiple Recombination Events among Closely Related Betacoronaviruses of the Subgenus Embecovirus

J Virol. 2019 Nov 13;93(23):e01236-19. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01236-19. Print 2019 Dec 1.


Genetic recombination has frequently been observed in coronaviruses. Here, we sequenced multiple complete genomes of dromedary camel coronavirus HKU23 (DcCoV-HKU23) from Nigeria, Morocco, and Ethiopia and identified several genomic positions indicative of cross-species virus recombination events among other betacoronaviruses of the subgenus Embecovirus (clade A beta-CoVs). Recombinant fragments of a rabbit coronavirus (RbCoV-HKU14) were identified at the hemagglutinin esterase gene position. Homolog fragments of a rodent CoV were also observed at 8.9-kDa open reading frame 4a at the 3' end of the spike gene. The patterns of recombination differed geographically across the African region, highlighting a mosaic structure of DcCoV-HKU23 genomes circulating in dromedaries. Our results highlighted active recombination of coronaviruses circulating in dromedaries and are also relevant to the emergence and evolution of other betacoronaviruses, including Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).IMPORTANCE Genetic recombination is often demonstrated in coronaviruses and can result in host range expansion or alteration in tissue tropism. Here, we showed interspecies events of recombination of an endemic dromedary camel coronavirus, HKU23, with other clade A betacoronaviruses. Our results supported the possibility that the zoonotic pathogen MERS-CoV, which also cocirculates in the same camel species, may have undergone similar recombination events facilitating its emergence or may do so in its future evolution.

Keywords: betacoronaviruses; coronaviruses; dromedary camels; evolution; phylogeny; recombination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Betacoronavirus / classification
  • Betacoronavirus / genetics*
  • Camelus / virology*
  • Coronavirus / classification
  • Coronavirus / genetics*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology*
  • Ethiopia
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genome, Viral
  • Genotype
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics
  • Morocco
  • Nigeria
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Phylogeny
  • Rabbits
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Zoonoses / virology


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing