2020 Vol. 41, No. 3

Full issue

The ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by infection with human coronavirus 2019 (HCoV-19 / SARS-CoV-2 / 2019-nCoV), is a global threat to the human population. Here, we briefly summarize the available data for the zoonotic origins of HCoV-19, with reference to the other two epidemics of highly virulent coronaviruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, which cause severe pneumonia in humans. We propose to intensify future efforts for tracing the origins of HCoV-19, which is a very important scientific question for the control and prevention of the pandemic.


Ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) is a pathological process that occurs in numerous organs throughout the human body, and it is frequently associated with severe cellular damage and death. Recently it has emerged that ferroptosis, a new form of regulated cell death that is caused by iron-dependent lipid peroxidation, plays a significantly detrimental role in many I/R models. In this review, we aim to revise the pathological process of I/R and then explore the molecular pathogenesis of ferroptosis. Furthermore, we aim to evaluate the role that ferroptosis plays in I/R, providing evidence to support the targeting of ferroptosis in the I/R pathway may present as a therapeutic intervention to alleviate ischemia/reperfusion injury (IRI) associated cell damage and death.

Water striders have intrigued researchers for centuries from the viewpoints of biology to biomechanics. In this review, we introduce the basic theories and techniques of physics and force measurement for biomechanical research into water striders. Morphological and behavioral traits of water striders are summarized and discussed from biomechanical perspectives, along with comparative study. This integrated review also highlights potential directions for studies on water-walking arthropods, which might inspire future biological and biomechanical research.


The outbreak of COVID-19 started in mid-December 2019 in Wuhan, China. Up to 29 February 2020, SARS-CoV-2 (HCoV-19 / 2019-nCoV) had infected more than 85 000 people in the world. In this study, we used 93 complete genomes of SARS-CoV-2 from the GISAID EpiFluTM database to investigate the evolution and human-to-human transmissions of SARS-CoV-2 in the first two months of the outbreak. We constructed haplotypes of the SARS-CoV-2 genomes, performed phylogenomic analyses and estimated the potential population size changes of the virus. The date of population expansion was calculated based on the expansion parameter tau (τ) using the formula t=τ/2u. A total of 120 substitution sites with 119 codons, including 79 non-synonymous and 40 synonymous substitutions, were found in eight coding-regions in the SARS-CoV-2 genomes. Forty non-synonymous substitutions are potentially associated with virus adaptation. No combinations were detected. The 58 haplotypes (31 found in samples from China and 31 from outside China) were identified in 93 viral genomes under study and could be classified into five groups. By applying the reported bat coronavirus genome (bat-RaTG13-CoV) as the outgroup, we found that haplotypes H13 and H38 might be considered as ancestral haplotypes, and later H1 was derived from the intermediate haplotype H3. The population size of the SARS-CoV-2 was estimated to have undergone a recent expansion on 06 January 2020, and an early expansion on 08 December 2019. Furthermore, phyloepidemiologic approaches have recovered specific directions of human-to-human transmissions and the potential sources for international infected cases.

Adult male tree shrews vigorously defend against intruding male conspecifics. However, the characteristics of social behavior have not been entirely explored in these males. In this study, male wild-type tree shrews (Tupaia belangeri chinensis) and C57BL/6J mice were first allowed to familiarize themselves with an open-field apparatus. The tree shrews exhibited a short duration of movement (moving) in the novel environment, whereas the mice exhibited a long duration of movement. In the 30 min social preference-avoidance test, target animals significantly decreased the time spent by the experimental tree shrews in the social interaction (SI) zone, whereas experimental male mice exhibited the opposite. In addition, experimental tree shrews displayed a significantly longer latency to enter the SI zone in the second 15 min session (target-present) than in the first 15 min session (target-absent), which was different from that found in mice. Distinct behavioral patterns in response to a conspecific male were also observed in male tree shrews and mice in the first, second, and third 5 min periods. Thus, social behaviors in tree shrews and mice appeared to be time dependent. In summary, our study provides results of a modified social preference-avoidance test designed for the assessment of social behavior in tree shrews. Our findings demonstrate the existence of social avoidance behavior in male tree shrews and prosocial behavior in male mice toward unfamiliar conspecifics. The tree shrew may be a new animal model, which differs from mice, for the study of social avoidance and prosocial behaviors.

Interspecific killing is a primary reason for the low survival rates of some animal species. The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is an altricial eutherian mammal and thus, in comparison to other infants, panda cubs are highly vulnerable, which may significantly influence the selection of breeding sites by females. Here, we used infrared camera traps to monitor giant panda dens for 5.5 years in Foping National Nature Reserve (FNNR) to determine how interspecific factors affect den selection by wild female pandas. Results indicated that Asian black bears (Ursus thibetanus), yellow-throated martens (Martes flavigula), leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis), and masked palm civets (Paguma larvata) visited the dens frequently, and the presence of these species negatively influenced den selection by female pandas. Interestingly, the presence of rodents and terrestrial birds appeared to indicate den safety, and female giant pandas were not averse and even preferred dens with a high abundance index of rodents and terrestrial birds. The den suitability index (DSI) was a reliable tool for evaluating whether dens were suitable for female giant pandas to give birth to and rear cubs, with preference for dens with high DSI values. This study increases our understanding of the den selection criteria of female giant pandas and the main threats to the survival of their cubs, thus providing important guidance for the conservation and management of this species.

Recent advances in avian transgenic studies highlight the possibility of utilizing lentiviral vectors as tools to generate transgenic chickens. However, low rates of gonadal chimerism and germ line transmission efficiency still limit the broad usage of this method in creating transgenic chickens. In this study, we implemented a simple strategy using modified lentiviral vectors targeted to chicken primordial germ cells (PGCs) to generate transgenic chickens. The lentiviral vectors were pseudotyped with a modified Sindbis virus envelope protein (termed M168) and conjugated with an antibody specific to PGC membrane proteins. We demonstrated that these optimized M168-pseudotyped lentiviral vectors conjugated with SSEA4 antibodies successfully targeted transduction of PGCs in vitro and in vivo. Compared with the control, 50.0%–66.7% of chicken embryos expressed green fluorescent protein (GFP) in gonads transduced by the M168-pseudotyped lentivirus. This improved the targeted transduction efficiency by 30.0%–46.7%. Efficient chimerism of exogenous genes was also observed. This targeting technology could improve the efficiency of germ line transmission and provide greater opportunities for transgenic poultry studies.

Asian leaf-litter toads of the genus Leptobrachella represent a great anuran diversification in Asia. Previous studies have suggested that the diversity of this genus is still underestimated. During herpetological surveys from 2013 to 2018, a series of Leptobrachella specimens were collected from the international border areas in the southern and western parts of Yunnan Province, China. Subsequent analyses based on morphological and molecular data revealed three distinct and previously unknown lineages, which we formally describe as three new species herein. Among them, we describe a new species that occurs at the highest known elevation for Leptobrachella in China. Four species of Leptobrachella, including two new species, are found in the same reserve. Furthermore, our results suggest that the population from Longchuan County, Yunnan, may represent an additional new species of Leptobrachella, although we tentatively assigned it to Leptobrachella cf. yingjiangensis due to the small sample size examined. Lastly, we provide the first description of females of L. yingjiangensis. Our results further highlight that both micro-endemism and sympatric distributions of species are common patterns in Leptobrachella, that contribute to taxonomic and conservation challenges in these frogs. We provide an identification key for Leptobrachella known to occur in Yunnan. Given the lack of knowledge on species diversity of Leptobrachella along international border areas, we recommend that future studies include trans-boundary collaborative surveys.

Host-pathogen interactions are highly complex, involving large dynamic changes in gene expression during infection. These interactions are fundamental to understanding anti-infection immunity of hosts, as well as the pathogenesis of pathogens. For bacterial pathogens interacting with animal hosts, time-resolved dual RNA-seq of infected tissue is difficult to perform due to low pathogen load in infected tissue. In this study, an acute infection model of Larimichthys crocea infected by Pseudomonas plecoglossicida was established. The spleens of infected fish exhibited typical symptoms, with a maximum bacterial load at two days post-injection (dpi). Time-resolved dual RNA-seq of infected spleens was successfully applied to study host-pathogen interactions between L. crocea and P. plecoglossicida. The spleens of infected L. crocea were subjected to dual RNA-seq, and transcriptome data were compared with those of noninfected spleens or in vitro cultured bacteria. Results showed that pathogen-host interactions were highly dynamically regulated, with corresponding fluctuations in host and pathogen transcriptomes during infection. The expression levels of many immunogenes involved in cytokine-cytokine receptor, Toll-like receptor signaling, and other immune-related pathways were significantly up-regulated during the infection period. Furthermore, metabolic processes and the use of oxygen in L. crocea were strongly affected by P. plecoglossicida infection. The WGCNA results showed that the metabolic process was strongly related to the entire immune process. For P. plecoglossicida, the expression levels of motility-related genes and flagellum assembly-related genes were significantly up-regulated. The results of this study may help to elucidate the interactions between L. crocea and P. plecoglossicida.

Leopard coral groupers belong to the Plectropomus genus of the Epinephelidae family and are important fish for coral reef ecosystems and the marine aquaculture industry. To promote future research of this species, a high-quality chromosome-level genome was assembled using PacBio sequencing and Hi-C technology. A 787.06 Mb genome was assembled, with 99.7% (784.57 Mb) of bases anchored to 24 chromosomes. The leopard coral grouper genome size was smaller than that of other groupers, which may be related to its ancient status among grouper species. A total of 22 317 protein-coding genes were predicted. This high-quality genome of the leopard coral grouper is the first genomic resource for Plectropomus and should provide a pivotal genetic foundation for further research. Phylogenetic analysis of the leopard coral grouper and 12 other fish species showed that this fish is closely related to the brown-marbled grouper. Expanded genes in the leopard coral grouper genome were mainly associated with immune response and movement ability, which may be related to the adaptive evolution of this species to its habitat. In addition, we also identified differentially expressed genes (DEGs) associated with carotenoid metabolism between red and brown-colored leopard coral groupers. These genes may play roles in skin color decision by regulating carotenoid content in these groupers.

Letters to the editor

In mid-September 2018, during a field survey in Chiat’ung, Sanjiangyuan (Three-River-Source) Region, Tibetan Plateau, China, we discovered the first active breeding den of the Chinese mountain cat (Felis bieti), inhabited by one adult female and two kittens. Based on fieldwork over the following months, five breeding dens were discovered, and 33 sightings were recorded. In addition, at least five individuals were confirmed to inhabit this overlooked region, and much previously unknown information concerning this cat species and its ecology was revealed for the first time.

The “call for help” hypothesis proposes that alarm calls produced by a bird can transmit warning information to both conspecific and interspecific neighbors. Neighbors who are attracted by social transmission might benefit from knowing about the presence of danger or by gaining information about the presence of predators or brood parasites nearby. Brood parasite hosts can distinguish threats from different intruders and exhibit varied responses correspondingly. However, most previous studies have conducted sound playback at host nest sites and focused on conspecific individuals attracted by the alarm calls. In this study, we used random location playback to investigate the responses of different host species to alarm signals of oriental reed warblers (Acrocephalus orientalis) toward different intruders (brood parasite, predator, and harmless control) in order to reveal how hosts evaluate different threats from different intruders using vocal information in non-nesting areas during the breeding season. We found that the alarm calls given in response to different intruders incurred similar numbers of approaching species for both conspecific and interspecific birds. However, the number of attracted individuals differed significantly among the various species, with conspecifics and vinous-throated parrotbills (Paradoxornis webbianus) dominating, both of which are major hosts of common cuckoos (Cuculus canorus). Nevertheless, interspecific birds did not present any aggressive behavior according to the alarm calls, which implied that visual information may be needed for further confirmation of threats. In addition, determining whether alarm call structure promoted an evolutionary convergence phenomenon still needs further verification.