Discovery of Novel Herpes Simplexviruses in Wild Gorillas, Bonobos, and Chimpanzees Supports Zoonotic Origin of HSV-2

Joel O. Wertheim, Reilly Hostager, Diane Ryu, Kevin Merkel, Samuel Angedakin, Mimi Arandjelovic, Emmanuel Ayuk Ayimisin, Fred Babweteera, Mattia Bessone, Kathryn J. Brun-Jeffery, Paula Dieguez, Winnie Eckardt, Barbara Fruth, Ilka Herbinger, Sorrel Jones, Hjalmar Kuehl, Kevin E. Langergraber, Kevin Lee, Nadege F. Madinda, Sonja MetzgerLucy Jayne Ormsby, Martha M. Robbins, Volker Sommer, Tara Stoinski, Erin G. Wessling, Roman M. Wittig, Yisa Ginath Yuh, Fabian H. Leendertz, Sébastien Calvignac-Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Viruses closely related to human pathogens can reveal the origins of human infectious diseases. Human herpes simplexvirus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2) are hypothesized to have arisen via host-virus codivergence and cross-species transmission. We report the discovery of novel herpes simplexviruses during a large-scale screening of fecal samples from wild gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that, contrary to expectation, simplexviruses from these African apes are all more closely related to HSV-2 than to HSV-1. Molecular clock-based hypothesis testing suggests the divergence between HSV-1 and the African great ape simplexviruses likely represents a codivergence event between humans and gorillas. The simplexviruses infecting African great apes subsequently experienced multiple cross-species transmission events over the past 3 My, the most recent of which occurred between humans and bonobos around 1 Ma. These findings revise our understanding of the origins of human herpes simplexviruses and suggest that HSV-2 is one of the earliest zoonotic pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2818-2830
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • ape
  • herpesvirus
  • molecular clock
  • phylogenetics
  • zoonosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Discovery of Novel Herpes Simplexviruses in Wild Gorillas, Bonobos, and Chimpanzees Supports Zoonotic Origin of HSV-2'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this