Predicting the recombination potential of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus

J Gen Virol. 2020 Dec;101(12):1251-1260. doi: 10.1099/jgv.0.001491. Epub 2020 Sep 9.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) recently emerged to cause widespread infections in humans. SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) causes seasonal outbreaks with a case fatality rate of ~37 %. Here we show that there exists a theoretical possibility of future recombination events between SARS-CoV-2 and MERS-CoV RNA. Through computational analyses, we have identified homologous genomic regions within the ORF1ab and S genes that could facilitate recombination, and have analysed co-expression patterns of the cellular receptors for SARS-CoV-2 and MERS-CoV, ACE2 and DPP4, respectively, to identify human anatomical sites that could facilitate co-infection. Furthermore, we have investigated the likely susceptibility of various animal species to MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 infection by comparing known virus spike protein-receptor interacting residues. In conclusion, we suggest that a recombination between SARS-CoV-2 and MERS-CoV RNA is possible and urge public health laboratories in high-risk areas to develop diagnostic capability for the detection of recombined coronaviruses in patient samples.

Keywords: MERS-CoV; SARS-CoV-2; coronavirus; emergence; predictions; recombination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Coinfection
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • Genome, Viral
  • Host Specificity
  • Humans
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Conformation
  • Reassortant Viruses*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • Viral Proteins / chemistry
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism


  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Viral Proteins