The origin of the pandemic caused by the coronavirus is still unknown, but the most defended theory is that the natural host of SARS-CoV-2 is an animal. Now, in a new article published in Nature Communications, researchers show the discovery of a 92.6% virus similar to the one that causes covid-19, present in Shamel horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus shameli).
Analyzing about 430 samples from six families of bats and two families of carnivorous mammals, the team found similarities with the current coronavirus, in evidence dated 2010, collected from two bats in Cambodia, an Asian country. The only difference, however, was in the region of the spike protein (S) — the virus’s main feature of infecting human cells.
The most recent detections of coronavirus-like ancestors to date have been seen in cave-dwelling mammals in Laos. Research indicates that covid-19-related microorganisms have a much wider geographic distribution than previously reported—they likely circulate through several species of Rhinolophus.
Want to catch up on the best tech news of the day? Access and subscribe to our new youtube channel, Canaltech News. Every day a summary of the main news from the tech world for you!
In both cases, the researchers defend the hypothesis that the pandemic originated through the spillover of a virus transmitted by bats.
These weren’t the only times that scientists found a similarity to today’s coronavirus. In 2020, some viruses of the SARS-CoV-2 subline were detected in groups of pangolins. Of these, one was found to be highly similar to that of covid-19, particularly with respect to the receptor-binding protein. The animals were seized during anti-smuggling operations in southeast China.
According to the study, Southeast Asia is experiencing a drastic change in land use, mainly due to urban development and agricultural expansion, which can increase contacts between bats, other wild animals, domestic animals and humans.
For that reason, the researchers point out that more surveillance efforts in the region are needed, as some animal species are “readily susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection — being intermediate hosts for transmission to humans,” they wrote.
According to Lucy Keatts, co-author of the study and a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) health program, the findings underscore the importance of increasing investment across the region in linking capacity for sustainable monitoring of wildlife pathogens through initiatives like the WildHealthNet.