Comparative ACE2 variation and primate COVID-19 risk

Amanda D. Melin, Mareike C. Janiak, Frank Marrone, Paramjit S. Arora, James P. Higham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 has caused over a million human deaths and massive global disruption. The viral infection may also represent a threat to our closest living relatives, nonhuman primates. The contact surface of the host cell receptor, ACE2, displays amino acid residues that are critical for virus recognition, and variations at these critical residues modulate infection susceptibility. Infection studies have shown that some primate species develop COVID-19-like symptoms; however, the susceptibility of most primates is unknown. Here, we show that all apes and African and Asian monkeys (catarrhines), exhibit the same set of twelve key amino acid residues as human ACE2. Monkeys in the Americas, and some tarsiers, lemurs and lorisoids, differ at critical contact residues, and protein modeling predicts that these differences should greatly reduce SARS-CoV-2 binding affinity. Other lemurs are predicted to be closer to catarrhines in their susceptibility. Our study suggests that apes and African and Asian monkeys, and some lemurs, are likely to be highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. Urgent actions have been undertaken to limit the exposure of great apes to humans, and similar efforts may be necessary for many other primate species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number641
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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