A team of scientists based in Sweden has made a groundbreaking discovery, identifying a new coronavirus that is prevalent in the bank vole population.
The new coronavirus was uncovered by researchers at the Zoonosis Science Center at Uppsala University, who analysed approximately 260 bank voles that they obtained from the Grimsö region of the country. The team’s study revealed that the new coronavirus is well-established in Sweden’s red-backed voles, with the researchers labelling the novel strain as the ‘Grimsö Virus’.
Åke Lundkvist, a professor in virology and head of the Zoonosis Science Center at Uppsala University, commented: “Between 2015 and 2017, we consistently found what we have called the ‘Grimsö Virus’ in 3.4% of these voles, which would suggest that the virus is widespread and common in Sweden’s bank voles.” Lundkvist led the study with researcher Jiaxin Ling and doctoral student Anishia Wasberg.
The study’s findings are published in Viruses.
Monitoring the spread of infectious diseases
Previous research has identified that rodents are prominent carriers of a range of zoonotic microorganisms, such as Hantaviruses and Tularemia, meaning they conduct a vital role in how several infectious diseases are spread.
There has been a significant increase in infectious diseases attributed to small animals in recent years, including rodents. This illustrates the importance of analysing the ecology of these host animals to prevent future outbreaks.
The bank vole, otherwise known as Myodes glareolus, is one of the most common rodents found throughout Europe. Earlier studies suggest that there are multiple coronaviruses circulating in animals in countries like the United Kingdom, France, Poland, and Germany.
Detecting a new coronavirus
The researchers at the Zoonosis Science Center are experts at mapping the progression of zoonotic viruses. This is an essential infection control tool. It enables the scientists to understand and monitor the interaction between viruses and host animals, providing crucial information that may help prevent disease outbreaks.
Although more notorious coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV and MERS, originated in bats, seasonal coronaviruses including HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 appear to have been transmitted to humans via rodents such as mice, rats, and voles.
In their investigation, the team examined red-backed voles caught around Grimsö between 2015 and 2017. The scientists employed an RNA sequencing method to test the voles for coronavirus, with the result illuminating the new Grimsö Virus, which belongs to the betacoronavirus family that comprises SARS-CoV, MERS and SARS-CoV-2.
Professor Lundkvist concluded: “We still do not know what potential threats the Grimsö Virus may pose to public health. However, based on our observations and previous coronaviruses identified among bank voles, there is good reason to continue monitoring the coronavirus amongst wild rodents.”