Scientists in China have found a new group of coronaviruses circulating in bats along with the one pathogen that appears to be the second closest to the SARS-CoV-2 virus genetically. Experts have said that their findings in a single small area of Yunnan province in southwestern China show the number of coronaviruses that can be found in bats and that have the ability to infect humans. The lead author of the study Weifeng Shi and his teammates have collected urine and fecal samples from small forest-dwelling bats from May 2019 to November 2020. Experts have taken swabs from the bats’ mouths as well. Experts have said that they have been able to collect around 84 genomes of coronaviruses in total from different species of bats. They have claimed that a viral sample called RpYN02 that has been taken from a horseshoe bat species known as Rhinolophus Pusillus has been proved to be quite similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has caused a massive COVID19 pandemic across the world. As per the study, except for slight genetic changes in the spike protein, it might be the closest strain to the COVID19 virus.
The spike protein is a knob-like structure that helps the virus to attach to human cells. The authors of the study have said that along with those viruses related to the SARS-CoV-2 that have been collected from Thailand in June 2020, the findings of the new study show that viruses that are similar to the COVID19 virus continue to circulate in the populations of bats. They have claimed that in some areas, they might be circulating in bats in high frequency. With the new study, scientists are trying to find out the actual origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Scientists have been claiming that though bats might be a source, there is a possibility that the virus might have infected an intermediary animal as well before infecting humans. Earlier the SARS virus has been traced back to an animal known as the civet cat; this virus has led to a massive outbreak from 2002 to 2004. Bats have been proved to be a reservoir host for a range of viruses that can result in severe diseases in humans. Bats have been linked with the spillovers of the Hendra virus, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, and coronaviruses as well.
Experts have said that apart from bats and humans, coronaviruses can spread in a variety of domestic and wild animals such as cats, dogs, cattle, mice, chickens, deer, and hedgehogs as well. In the new study, most samples have been collected from horseshoe bats. In 2017, scientists who have been sampling a cave in Yunnan have found many viruses that have been genetically similar to the SARS virus in the horseshoe virus. Nearly three of the samples analyzed in the new study as well have been quite similar to the SARS virus genetically. In the new study, the authors have claimed that the findings of their report show the notable diversity of coronaviruses at the local scale along with close relatives of both SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV viruses. The bat species that have been sampled in the new study are quite common across Southeast Asia, Southwest China, Vietnam, and Laos said the experts.
There are many arguments over the source of coronaviruses among scientists around the world. Scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) have said that most likely animal is the source of coronavirus and most probably a bat. Many scientists across the world have said that people usually hunt bats and cats. On the other hand, bats can infect many other animals. Bats are more often hunted and eaten by humans and this way, viruses circulating in bats can infect humans when they slaughter or handle these animals carelessly.