A team of Chinese researchers has found a new batch of coronaviruses in bats. The researchers collected urine, feces, and mouth swab samples from small forest bats that dwelled in Yunnan province between May 2019 and November 2020. The scientists published their findings in the journal Cell.
One of the coronavirus samples collected from the Rhinolophus pusillus bat species nearly matched the SARS-CoV-2 that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic all over the world. The only difference is in the spike protein that the viruses use to attach to the cells of hosts they infect. The researchers said they collected the genomes of 24 novel coronaviruses from various bat species which are known to infect human beings.
“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,” the scientists wrote.
Although the United States government alleges that the COVID-19 virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus most likely came from a bat. The WHO said the SARS-CoV-2 must have originated from a bat and then passed through an intermediary animal before infecting humans.
The SARS virus that caused a regional pandemic from 2002 to 2004 was traced to a civet cat which was the intermediary animal after it came from a bat. According to the scientists, several fatal viruses such as SARS, Hendra virus, Marburg virus, and Ebola virus which infect humans have been tracked to bats even though they are also known to infect domestic animals.
“Bats are well-known reservoir hosts for a variety of viruses that cause severe diseases in humans and have been associated with the spillovers of Hendra virus, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and, most notably, coronaviruses,” the scientists wrote. “Aside 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.”
Most of the novel coronaviruses obtained from bats came from the horseshoe bat species. But most of the bat species sampled for the research are common in Southeast Asia, southwest China, Vietnam, and Laos among other regions. This goes to show that the diversity of bats is wide-ranging, raising the global risks of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV among other coronaviruses traceable to bats in our local areas.