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Pangolins are scaly and toothless mammals which are distributed across Africa and Asia. Currently, the Malayan, Chinese and Philippine pangolins are designated as critically endangered species. Although few pangolin viruses have been described, their viromes have received more attention following the discovery that they harbour sarbecoviruses related to SARS-CoV-2. Using large-scale genome mining, we discovered novel lineages of papillomaviruses infecting the Malayan and Chinese pangolins. We were able to assemble three complete circular papillomavirus genomes with an intact coding capacity and five additional L1 genes encoding the major capsid protein. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that seven out of eight L1 sequences formed a monophyletic group which is the sister lineage to the Tupaia belangeri papillomavirus 1, isolated from Yunnan province in China. Additionally, a single L1 sequence assembled from a Chinese pangolin was placed in a clade closer to Alphapapillomavirus and Omegapapillomavirus. Examination of the SRA data from 95 re-sequenced genomes revealed that 49.3% of Malayan pangolins and 50% of Chinese pangolins were positive for papillomavirus reads. Our results indicate that pangolins in South-East Asia are the hosts of diverse and highly prevalent papillomaviruses, and highlight the value of in silico mining of host sequencing data for the discovery of novel viruses.

Original publication




Journal article


Biol Lett

Publication Date





Manis javanica, Manis pentadactyla, Papillomaviridae, Animals, Pangolins, Phylogeny, China, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19