I’m sure everyone is aware of the coronavirus that is sweeping across the world, but not everyone is aware that coronaviruses are an extensive group of viruses that can affect both animals and humans. In fact, of hundreds of coronaviruses, only seven are known to affect people. Generally speaking, they cause upper respiratory tract illnesses that are mild to moderate in severity. Some, however, including SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and the famous SARS-CoV-2 are known to be much more serious, even causing death.
The three aforementioned fatal coronaviruses have been responsible for 3 outbreaks. The SARS coronavirus, or SARS-CoV originated in China in November 2002 and spread worldwide before disappearing in 2004. The MERS coronavirus, which originated from camels, causes smaller outbreaks. And SARS-CoV-2, like SARS-COV, originated in China and has seemingly taken over the world for the past year.
There are 4 different types of coronaviruses: alphacoronaviruses, betacoronaviruses, gammacoronaviruses, and deltacoronaviruses. SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV would fall under the category of betacoronaviruses, which along with alphacoronaviruses are believed to originate from bats. Gammacoronaviruses and deltacoronaviruses are more common to birds. I was curious about coronaviruses in my favorite animal, the Canadian goose. Unfortunately, coronaviruses can kill these lovely innocent feathery angels, which makes me very sad.
Thankfully, back in April of 2019, scientists completely sequenced the genome of a new coronavirus that has been killing many Canada and Snow geese. This virus was determined to be a gammacoronavirus, which has very few known species. This research therefore will be helpful in learning more about the most elusive genus of the coronavirus family.
Sequencing is overall very important for viruses. Many of you may be familiar with how SARS-CoV-2 has been sequenced and there is an online public database with submitted sequences (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sars-cov-2/). Sequencing can help identify different strains of viruses and thus help scientists get a better sense about how the disease is transmitted. I am truly glad that effort is being focused on geese, although I do wonder how preventative measures and treatments will be administered. It’s highly unlikely that geese will wear masks.