Audrée Lemieux, Graham A. Colby, Alexandre J. Poulain, Stéphane Aris-Brosou: Viral spillover risk increases with climate change in High Arctic lake sediments, in: Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Biological Science Vol. 289, Issue 1985 (October 26, 2022) 20221073, online in: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2022.1073.
The host spectrum of viruses is quite diverse, as they can sustainedly infect a few species to several phyla. When confronted with a new host, a virus may even infect it and transmit sustainably in this new host, a process called ‘viral spillover’. However, the risk of such events is difficult to quantify. As climate change is rapidly transforming environments, it is becoming critical to quantify the potential for spillovers. To address this issue, the authors resorted to a metagenomics approach and focused on two environments, soil and lake sediments from Lake Hazen, the largest High Arctic freshwater lake in the world. The authors used DNA and RNA sequencing to reconstruct the lake’s virosphere in both its sediments and soils, as well as its range of eukaryotic hosts. They then estimated the spillover risk by measuring the congruence between the viral and the eukaryotic host phylogenetic trees, and show that spillover risk increases with runoff from glacier melt, a proxy for climate change. Should climate change also shift species range of potential viral vectors and reservoirs northwards, the High Arctic could become fertile ground for emerging pandemics.