Chimpanzee, gorilla, wild boar, even horse or dog: these animals currently possess viruses that could be responsible for the next disease of animal origin that will afflict humanity on a large scale.
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“We can’t say where the next pandemic will come from, but around ten species share a very large number of common viruses with Homo sapiens, a requirement for interspecies transmission,” explains Timothée Poisot, professor of biological sciences at the University of Montreal and lead author of an article that just appeared in the journal on the subject arXiv.
With his colleagues from Great Britain and the USA, the researcher used artificial intelligence to identify the animal species most likely to transmit viruses to humans that transmit serious diseases, so-called zoonoses.
We know that the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 is of animal origin, even if the species has not yet been officially identified, just like the virus responsible for AIDS. The bat is said to have caused rabies and the rat caused monkeypox. To find out which zoonoses are of most concern, the researchers used a very complex database with 80,000 possible virus-host interactions.
The researcher states that the species he has identified are not necessarily the ones that will undoubtedly transmit the next virus capable of causing a human pandemic, since many factors play a role in this phenomenon. A capital element is the promiscuity we cultivate with certain species.
“Although we have many genetic links to chimpanzees and gorillas, few people come into contact with these animals on a daily basis. On the other hand, the dog is an animal that has shared man’s intimacy since the dawn of time,” stresses Mr Poisot.
Does this mean the next pandemic could come from “man’s best friend”? There is no consensus on this point, the biologist counters, but the dog is the source of several “new” viruses that have infected people in Malaysia, Cuba and Haiti.
35,000 computing hours
Very theoretically, the biologists’ work required 35,000 hours of computer use by Calcul Québec, a non-profit organization that requires the use of supercomputers, machines 3,000 times more powerful than those used at home.
At the end of this work, about twenty cases were retained. The researchers were surprised to find that one of them, responsible for smallpox in mice, had actually been identified as responsible for an outbreak in a Chinese school in 1987.
Their discovery made it possible to reposition the most endangered species according to current scientific knowledge. While species from Europe have been suspected, the international team’s research draws attention to the Amazon. According to Professor Poisot, this is where the potential for viral evolution is greatest.
In the stable, the horse can transmit ringworm, mange and salmonellosis. The wild species is still present primarily in the western United States and western Canada.
(Canis lupus familiaris)
Descended from the gray wolf, the dog is the first species domesticated by humans and lives around the world. In addition to rabies, which is often fatal, bacterial diseases such as leptospirosis, which cause fever and kidney dysfunction, can be transmitted by dogs.
The chimpanzee suspected of being the origin of AIDS, a retrovirus that would have infected it long before humans, would be responsible for transmitting Ebola, which is often fatal to humans.
The western gorilla is found on the plains of seven African countries. Ebola would have decimated a good portion of today’s species on the brink of extinction. It may have played a role in transmitting the AIDS virus to humans.
This equally endangered primate lives in the Great Lakes region of Africa. It transmits diseases such as influenza, meningitis and tuberculosis.
In Guyana, leptospirosis, which is also transmitted by dogs, is called “rat disease”. This Latin American species differs from the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), found in cities like Montreal.
The wild boar, a mammal native to Europe and domesticated on North American farms, is a carrier of about thirty diseases that can be transmitted to humans, including brucellosis and tuberculosis.
The deer mouse found in Quebec carries the hantavirus in its urine, saliva and feces. Human symptoms: fever, chills, headache and muscle pain. If left untreated, the disease causes breathing difficulties.
BIG-HEADED COUNTRY MOUSE
This rodent, restricted to the South American continent, is responsible for cases of leishmaniasis, a parasitic infection of the skin.
(no name in French)
This species of rodent, found in South America, has been identified as a reservoir of the Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever virus.
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