Bats host many viruses pathogenic to humans, and increasing evidence suggests that Rotavirus A (RVA) also belongs to this list. Rotaviruses cause diarrheal disease in many mammals and birds, and their segmented genomes allow them to reassort and increase their genetic diversity. Eighteen out of 2,142 bat fecal samples (0.8%) collected from Europe, Central America and Africa were PCR-positive for RVA and 11 of those were fully characterized using viral metagenomics. Upon contrasting their genomes with publicly available data, at least 7 distinct bat RVA genotype constellations (GCs) were identified, including evidence of reassortments and 6 novel genotypes. Some of these constellations are spread across the world, whereas others appear to be geographically restricted. Our analyses also suggest that several unusual human and equine RVA strains might be of bat RVA origin, based on their phylogenetic clustering, despite varying levels of nucleotide sequence identities between them. Although SA11 is one of the most widely used reference strains for RVA research and forms the backbone of a reverse genetics system, its origin remained enigmatic. Remarkably, the majority of the genotypes of SA11-like strains were shared with Gabonese bat RVAs, suggesting a potential common origin. Overall, our findings suggest an underexplored genetic diversity of RVAs in bats, which is likely only the tip of the iceberg. Increasing contact between humans and bat wildlife will further increase the zoonosis risk, which warrants closer attention to these viruses.
The increased research on bat coronaviruses after SARS-CoV and MERS-CoVallowed the very rapid identification of SARS-CoV-2. This is an excellent example of the importance of knowing viruses harbored by wildlife in general and bats in particular, for global preparedness against emerging viral pathogens. The current effort to characterize bat rotavirus strains from 3 continents shed light on the vast genetic diversity of rotaviruses and also hinted at a bat origin for several atypical rotaviruses in humans and animals, implying that zoonoses of bat rotaviruses might occur more frequently than currently realized.