Chinese researchers find new batch of coronaviruses in bats: All you need to know
Beijing, June 12: Amid fresh calls for a deeper probe into Covid-19 origins, Chinese researchers have found a bat coronavirus that is similar to the SARS-CoV-2. The newly found viruses in the bats, likely to be genetically the second-closest to the Covid-19 virus till now.
The study conducted by the Chinese researchers from Shandong University, show just how many coronaviruses are there in bats and how many have the potential to spread to people.
"In total, we assembled 24 novel coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2 like coronaviruses," the Chinese researchers noted in a report published in the journal Cell.
The researchers collected samples from small, forest-dwelling bats between May 2019 and November 2020 and tested urine and feces as well as taking swabs from the bats' mouths.
During the study, they found a viral sample called RpYN06 taken from a horseshoe bat species called Rhinolophus pusillus, that is genetically very similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that's causing the ongoing pandemic.
"It would be the closest strain to SARS-CoV-2 except for genetic differences on the spike protein, the knob-like structure that the virus uses when attaching to cells," the researchers said.
"Together with the SARS-CoV-2 related virus collected from 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 might occur at a relatively high frequency," they added.
This discovery of new coronaviruses in bats comes at a time when there is growing demand for a timely, transparent and evidence-based probe to find the COVID-19 origin.
Bats or Wuhan lab: The mystery over COVID-19 Origin
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been various hypotheses to explain the origin of SARS-CoV-2.
In the case of COVID-19, bats were an obvious first place to look. They're known hosts for many coronaviruses and are the probable source of other zoonotic diseases like SARS and MERS.
For SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the nearest relative scientists have found so far is BatCoV RaTG13. This virus is part of a collection of bat coronaviruses discovered in 2011 and 2012 by virologists from the Wuhan Virology Institute.
Many are calling for a deeper investigation into the hypothesis that the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), located in the Chinese city where the first COVID-19 cases were reported.
Although a WHO-formed committee that visited the Wuhan facility concluded that no evidence appeared to support a human-made origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, several prominent scientists questioned whether China was being fully transparent during that visit. In an open letter published in May in Science, these scientists called for further investigation.