CoVaRR-Net Researchers

Angela Rasmussen, University of Saskatchewan, CoVaRR-Net Host-Pathogen Interactions Pillar Lead (Pillar 2), Project Lead
Arinjay Banerjee, University of Saskatchewan, Pillar 2 Deputy
Jason Kindrachuk, University of Manitoba, Pillar 2 Deputy
Samira Mubareka, University of Toronto, Pillar 2 Deputy
Brad Pickering, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Pillar 2 Deputy
Selena Sagan, McGill University, Pillar 2 Deputy

Lay Summary

Novel disease outbreaks frequently begin with zoonotic spillover, or transmission across different species. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have unprecedented effects on global human health and bring massive economic consequences, there have been increasing reports of SARS-CoV-2 “spillback,” or infection in wild, captive, and domesticated animals, including those in Canada. This spillback can result in the establishment of new animal reservoirs, or populations that support transmission, and increases the risk of new variants spilling over into humans. This highlights the urgent need to better understand the host range (the variety of animals who can contract, carry and/or transmit diseases) and their impact on SARS-CoV-2 and emerging variants of concern (VOCs).

Increasing evidence for spillover of SARS-CoV-2 into additional animal species brings to the fore the need for rapid characterization of emerging viruses, given

  • their potential to have broad impacts on wildlife and livestock species, and thus on conservation and food security, as well; and
  • the likelihood that animal species in Canada also serve as incidental hosts for SARS-CoV-2 and present a risk for the establishment of new animal reservoirs, as well as the emergence of new potential variants.

The primary goals of the project:

  • Identify Canadian animal species (native and imported wildlife, captive, and domesticated species) that are at increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 spillback
  • Characterize SARS-CoV-2 infection potential within these species through the development of reagents and assays

These analyses could be used to identify common cellular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 infections in human and nonhuman animal hosts.

The project will involve the following research:

  • Bioinformatic identification of conserved SARS-CoV-2 mutations from nonhuman animal species
  • Experimental assessment of susceptibility to infection and spillback potential in Canadian wildlife and domestic animals
  • Reagent development (including ACE-2 cell line constructs and biological assays) to support the above aim and Year 2 activities


CoVaRR-Net: $200,000 cash contribution