Mutations that adapt SARS-CoV-2 to mink or ferret do not increase fitness in the human airway

SARS-CoV-2 has a broad mammalian species tropism infecting humans, cats, dogs, and farmed mink. Since the start of the 2019 pandemic, several reverse zoonotic outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 have occurred in mink, one of which reinfected humans and caused a cluster of infections in Denmark. Here we investigate the molecular basis of mink and ferret adaptation and demonstrate the spike mutations Y453F, F486L, and N501T all specifically adapt SARS-CoV-2 to use mustelid ACE2. Furthermore, we risk assess these mutations and conclude mink-adapted viruses are unlikely to pose an increased threat to humans, as Y453F attenuates the virus replication in human cells and all three mink adaptations have minimal antigenic impact. Finally, we show that certain SARS-CoV-2 variants emerging from circulation in humans may naturally have a greater propensity to infect mustelid hosts and therefore these species should continue to be surveyed for reverse zoonotic infections.

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