Bats, Sunda pangolins and mink are among the top ten per cent of 540 mammalian species that are most likely to spread COVID 19, according to an AI tool developed by researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York.
The researchers used AI tool to understand the various versions of ACE2 protein, which is a binding force in COVID 19. The SARS-CoV-2, which causes covid-19, invades human and animal tissues by engaging ACE2 protein on host cells with its spike protein.
Distinct species have different versions of the ACE2 protein, so understanding how well their version binds to the coronavirus spike protein can help predict which animals are most likely to get, and hence possibly spread, covid-19, the researchers maintained.
Barbara Han from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and fellow researchers built the AI to predict whether the ACE2 protein from 5400 mammalian species can bind strongly enough to the spike protein from the original coronavirus variant to harbour the virus, even without knowing their ACE2 amino acid sequences. Striped skunk and 76 rodent species including some species of rat and deer mice are likely to spread the coronavirus, along with some farmed species such as water buffalo.
To create the model, the team first estimated how strongly the spike protein binds to the ACE2 protein from 142 mammalian species for which ACE2 sequences are known, and whether or not these species are likely to spread the coronavirus. They fed the AI information on transmissibility and around 60 ecological and biological traits for the 142 species. The traits included where the animals live, how much their habitats overlap with human populations, their lifespan, how varied their diet is and their body mass.
The resulting model, when given biological and ecological trait data for the other species, could then guess the likelihood of the 5400 mammalian species studied being able to spread the coronavirus.