Bats, the mystery behind covid-19 2:13
(CNN) – Chinese researchers said on Thursday they had found batches of new coronaviruses in bats, including one that could be the second closest, genetically, to the covid-19 virus.
According to the researchers, their discoveries in a single small region of Yunnan province in southwest China show how many coronaviruses are in bats and how many have the potential to spread to people.
Weifeng Shi of Shandong University and his colleagues collected samples from small bats that lived in the forest between May 2019 and November 2020. They analyzed urine and feces, as well as taking swabs from the bats’ mouths.
“In total, we collected 24 novel coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2-like coronaviruses,” the researchers wrote in a report published in the journal Cell.
One was very similar, genetically, to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is causing the current pandemic, they said: a viral sample called RpYN06 taken from a species of horseshoe bat called Rhinolophus pusillus.
It would be the closest strain to SARS-CoV-2 except for genetic differences in the spike protein, the button-like structure that the virus uses when attaching itself to cells, they said.
‘Together with the SARS-CoV-2-related virus collected in Thailand in June 2020, these results clearly demonstrate that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 continue to circulate in bat populations, and in some regions may show up relatively frequently, ”they wrote.
Researchers are trying to find out where SARS-CoV-2 came from. Although a bat is a likely source, the virus may have infected an intermediate animal. The SARS virus that caused an outbreak in 2002-2004 was traced to an animal called the civet cat.
‘Bats are well-known reservoirs for a variety of viruses that cause serious illness in humans and have been associated with the spread of Hendra virus, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, and especially coronaviruses. Apart from bats and humans, coronaviruses can infect a wide range of domestic and wild animals, including pigs, cattle, mice, cats, dogs, chickens, deer and hedgehogs, “they wrote.
Most of the samples come from horseshoe bat species. In 2017, researchers who took samples from a cave in Yunnan found viruses genetically very close to the SARS virus in horseshoe bats.
Three of the samples described in Thursday’s report were also genetically close to SARS.
“Our study highlights the remarkable diversity of bat coronaviruses on a local scale, including close relatives of both SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV,” they wrote. The bat species they sampled are common in Southeast Asia, including southwest China, Vietnam, Laos, and elsewhere.
Although there is some controversy about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, a report from the World Health Organization said that the most likely source is an animal, probably a bat.
People hunt and eat bats, and bats can infect other animals that are also hunted and eaten by people. Viruses can infect people when they handle or kill animals.