Variation in predicted COVID-19 risk among lemurs and lorises

Amanda D. Melin, Joseph D. Orkin, Mareike C. Janiak, Alejandro Valenzuela, Lukas Kuderna, Frank Marrone, Hasinala Ramangason, Julie E. Horvath, Christian Roos, Andrew C. Kitchener, Chiea Chuen Khor, Weng Khong Lim, Jessica G.H. Lee, Patrick Tan, Govindhaswamy Umapathy, Muthuswamy Raveendran, R. Alan Harris, Ivo Gut, Marta Gut, Esther LizanoTilo Nadler, Dietmar Zinner, Minh D. Le, Sivakumara Manu, Clément J. Rabarivola, Alphonse Zaramody, Nicole Andriaholinirina, Steig E. Johnson, Erich D. Jarvis, Olivier Fedrigo, Dongdong Wu, Guojie Zhang, Kyle Kai How Farh, Jeffrey Rogers, Tomas Marques-Bonet, Arcadi Navarro, David Juan, Paramjit S. Arora, James P. Higham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which in humans leads to the disease COVID-19, has caused global disruption and more than 2 million fatalities since it first emerged in late 2019. As we write, infection rates are at their highest point globally and are rising extremely rapidly in some areas due to more infectious variants. The primary target of SARS-CoV-2 is the cellular receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2). Recent sequence analyses of the ACE2 gene predict that many nonhuman primates are also likely to be highly susceptible to infection. However, the anticipated risk is not equal across the Order. Furthermore, some taxonomic groups show high ACE2 amino acid conservation, while others exhibit high variability at this locus. As an example of the latter, analyses of strepsirrhine primate ACE2 sequences to date indicate large variation among lemurs and lorises compared to other primate clades despite low sampling effort. Here, we report ACE2 gene and protein sequences for 71 individual strepsirrhines, spanning 51 species and 19 genera. Our study reinforces previous results while finding additional variability in other strepsirrhine species, and suggests several clades of lemurs have high potential susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Troublingly, some species, including the rare and endangered aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), as well as those in the genera Avahi and Propithecus, may be at high risk. Given that lemurs are endemic to Madagascar and among the primates at highest risk of extinction globally, further understanding of the potential threat of COVID-19 to their health should be a conservation priority. All feasible actions should be taken to limit their exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23255
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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