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Evidence for reassortment of highly divergent novel rotaviruses from bats in Cameroon, without evidence for human interspecies transmissions

By Kwe Claude Yinda, Mark Zeller, Nádia Conceição-Neto, Piet Maes, Ward Deboutte, Leen Beller, Elisabeth Heylen, Stephen Mbigha Ghogomu, Marc Van Ranst, Jelle Matthijnssens

Posted 18 May 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/054072 (published DOI: 10.1038/srep34209)

Bats are an important reservoir for pathogenic human respiratory and hemorrhagic viruses but only little is known about bat viruses causing gastroenteritis in humans, including rotavirus A strains (RVA). Only three RVA strains have been reported in bats in Kenya (straw-colored fruit bat) and in China (lesser horseshoe and a stoliczka's trident bat), being highly divergent from each other. To further elucidate the potential of bat RVAs to cause gastroenteritis in humans we started by investigating the genetic diversity of RVAs in fecal samples from 87 straw-colored fruit bats living in close contact with humans in Cameroon using metagenomics. Five samples contained significant numbers of RVA Illumina reads, sufficient to obtain their (near) complete genomes. A single RVA strain showed a close phylogenetic relationship with the Kenyan bat RVA strain in six gene segments, including VP7 (G25), whereas the other gene segments represented novel genotypes as ratified by the RCWG. The 4 other RVA strains were highly divergent from known strains (but very similar among each other) possessing all novel genotypes. Only the VP7 and VP4 genes showed a significant variability representing multiple novel G and P genotypes, indicating the frequent occurrence of reassortment events. Comparing these bat RVA strains with currently used human RVA screening primers indicated that several of the novel VP7 and VP4 segments would not be detected in routine epidemiological screening studies. Therefore, novel VP6 based screening primers matching both human and bat RVAs were developed and used to screen samples from 25 infants with gastroenteritis living in close proximity with the studied bat population. Although RVA infections were identified in 36% of the infants, Sanger sequencing did not indicate evidence of interspecies transmissions. This study identified multiple novel bat RVA strains, but further epidemiological studies in humans will have to assess if these viruses have the potential to cause gastroenteritis in humans.

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