Isolation of SARS-CoV-2-related coronavirus from Malayan pangolins

Nature. 2020 Jul;583(7815):286-289. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2313-x. Epub 2020 May 7.


The current outbreak of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) poses unprecedented challenges to global health1. The new coronavirus responsible for this outbreak-severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-shares high sequence identity to SARS-CoV and a bat coronavirus, RaTG132. Although bats may be the reservoir host for a variety of coronaviruses3,4, it remains unknown whether SARS-CoV-2 has additional host species. Here we show that a coronavirus, which we name pangolin-CoV, isolated from a Malayan pangolin has 100%, 98.6%, 97.8% and 90.7% amino acid identity with SARS-CoV-2 in the E, M, N and S proteins, respectively. In particular, the receptor-binding domain of the S protein of pangolin-CoV is almost identical to that of SARS-CoV-2, with one difference in a noncritical amino acid. Our comparative genomic analysis suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may have originated in the recombination of a virus similar to pangolin-CoV with one similar to RaTG13. Pangolin-CoV was detected in 17 out of the 25 Malayan pangolins that we analysed. Infected pangolins showed clinical signs and histological changes, and circulating antibodies against pangolin-CoV reacted with the S protein of SARS-CoV-2. The isolation of a coronavirus from pangolins that is closely related to SARS-CoV-2 suggests that these animals have the potential to act as an intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2. This newly identified coronavirus from pangolins-the most-trafficked mammal in the illegal wildlife trade-could represent a future threat to public health if wildlife trade is not effectively controlled.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Betacoronavirus / classification
  • Betacoronavirus / genetics*
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • COVID-19
  • China
  • Chiroptera / virology
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Coronavirus Envelope Proteins
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Coronavirus Infections / veterinary
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Coronavirus M Proteins
  • Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • Disease Reservoirs / virology
  • Eutheria / virology*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Viral / genetics*
  • Genomics
  • Host Specificity
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung / virology
  • Malaysia
  • Nucleocapsid Proteins / genetics
  • Pandemics
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Phylogeny
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid*
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / genetics
  • Vero Cells
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / genetics
  • Zoonoses / transmission
  • Zoonoses / virology


  • Coronavirus Envelope Proteins
  • Coronavirus M Proteins
  • Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • Viral Matrix Proteins
  • envelope protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • membrane protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • nucleocapsid phosphoprotein, SARS-CoV-2