Chinese researchers find a number of new coronaviruses in bats
According to the researchers, their discoveries in a single, small region in southwest China’s Yunnan Province show how many coronaviruses there are in bats and how many have the potential to spread to humans.
Weifeng Shi from Shandong University and colleagues collected samples from small bats living in the forest between May 2019 and November 2020. They examined urine and feces and took swabs from the bats’ mouths.
“We have compiled a total of 24 novel coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2-like coronaviruses,” the researchers write in a report published in the journal Cell.
One was genetically very similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is causing the current pandemic – a sample of the virus called RpYN06, taken from a horseshoe bat called Rhinolophus pusillus.
It would be the closest strain to SARS-CoV-2, aside from genetic differences in spike protein, the button-like structure the virus uses when attaching to cells, they said.
“Together with the SARS-CoV-2 virus collected from Thailand in June 2020, these results clearly show that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 continue to circulate in bat populations and in some regions with relative high frequency, “they wrote.
Researchers are trying to find out where SARS-CoV-2 comes from. Although a bat is a likely source, it is possible that the virus has infected an intermediate animal. The SARS virus that caused an outbreak in 2002-2004 has been traced back to an animal called the civet cat.
“Bats are known reservoir hosts for a large number of viruses that cause serious illness in humans and have been linked to the spread of the Hendra virus, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and, above all, coronaviruses. In addition to 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 were from species of horseshoe bat. In 2017, researchers found viruses in a cave in Yunnan that are genetically very similar 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 at the local level, including close relatives of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV,” they wrote. The bat species they have studied are common in Southeast Asia, including southwest China, Vietnam, Laos, and elsewhere.
Although there is some controversy over the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, a report from the World Health Organization states that the most likely source is an animal – likely a bat.
Humans hunt and eat bats, and bats can infect other animals that are also hunted and eaten by humans. Viruses can infect humans when they handle or slaughter the animals.