DOI: 10.1128/jvi.00395-23 ISSN:

Isolation of ACE2-dependent and -independent sarbecoviruses from Chinese horseshoe bats

Hua Guo, Ang Li, Tian-Yi Dong, Hao-Rui Si, Ben Hu, Bei Li, Yan Zhu, Zheng-Li Shi, Michael Letko
  • Virology
  • Insect Science
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology


While the spike proteins from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses-1 and 2 (SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2) bind to host angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) to infect cells, the majority of bat sarbecoviruses cannot use ACE2 from any species. Despite their discovery almost 20 years ago, ACE2-independent sarbecoviruses have never been isolated from field samples, leading to the assumption these viruses pose little risk to humans. We have previously shown how spike proteins from a small group of ACE2-independent bat sarbecoviruses may possess the ability to infect human cells in the presence of exogenous trypsin. Here, we adapted our earlier findings into a virus isolation protocol and recovered two new ACE2-dependent viruses, RsYN2012 and RsYN2016A, as well as an ACE2-independent virus, RsHuB2019A. Although our stocks of RsHuB2019A rapidly acquired a tissue-culture adaption that rendered the spike protein resistant to trypsin, trypsin was still required for viral entry, suggesting limitations on the exogenous entry factors that support bat sarbecoviruses. Electron microscopy revealed that ACE2-independent sarbecoviruses have a prominent spike corona and share similar morphology to other coronaviruses. Our findings demonstrate a broader zoonotic threat posed by sarbecoviruses and shed light on the intricacies of coronavirus isolation and propagation in vitro .


Several coronaviruses have been transmitted from animals to people, and 20 years of virus discovery studies have uncovered thousands of new coronavirus sequences in nature. Most of the animal-derived sarbecoviruses have never been isolated in culture due to cell incompatibilities and a poor understanding of the in vitro requirements for their propagation. Here, we built on our growing body of work characterizing viral entry mechanisms of bat sarbecoviruses in human cells and have developed a virus isolation protocol that allows for the exploration of these understudied viruses. Our protocol is robust and practical, leading to successful isolation of more sarbecoviruses than previous approaches and from field samples that had been collected over a 10-year longitudinal study.

More from our Archive