SARS-CoV-2 has its origin in an Asian bat species, but it is now clear that it can infect various unrelated mammal species in addition to humans. Given the circulation of the virus among humans, they may transmit it to wildlife; should this happen, a new reservoir may emerge that will be extremely difficult to control. This should be avoided, but it is not yet clear which naturally occurring species in Belgium are susceptible to the virus.
Virus entry in a host cell happens through binding to the ACE2 protein, and is further facilitated by the host's furin and TMPRSS2 proteases; these proteins occur in all species, but their sequences (and thus the structural properties that are required for interaction with the virus) may differ, and that determines whether the host is susceptible to infection. To determine which species possibly can become infected, we will determine the sequences of the involved genes for the different Belgian mammal species. In collaboration with the protein specialists of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences we will map the possible structural and functional implications of variations in amino acid sequences and on this basis evaluate which native mammals potentially could become a reservoir. Based on this, specific measures can then be developed to avoid the creation of such a reservoir.