Relatives of coronavirus may have been in bats for decades – Opelika Auburn News

Close relatives of the virus behind COVID-19 likely circulated in bats for decades before the viruses made their jump into humans last year, igniting the worst global pandemic in more than 100 years, according to a study released this week.

The paper, co-authored by Todd Castoe, a University of Texas-Arlington researcher and published in the journal Nature Microbiology, also found no evidence that the virus was either manufactured in or accidentally released from a lab in Wuhan, China, as some have speculated.

"From the 1960s or the 1970s, these viruses were just circulating undetected in bats, probably ready to infect humans at any point," said Maciej Boni, the paper's lead author and an expert on infectious disease at Pennsylvania State University. "We just got unlucky in 2019."

Scientists still don't know exactly how the novel coronavirus first spread to humans, but the new study suggests bats were the virus' primary reservoir.

Until now, researchers have speculated that the virus may have come from dogs, snakes, bats or pangolins, highly trafficked mammals that resemble armadillos. Some have suggested it was created in a Wuhan lab as a bioweapon or that it was released from a lab by accident.

"The paper does a nice job at narrowing down some of the still-to-be answered questions about where this virus came from," said Robert Garry of the Tulane University School of Medicine who was not involved in the study.

By comparing the SARS-CoV-2 virus to its cousins in bats, pangolins and other animals, scientists were able to show that it was about 96% similar to its closest known bat-virus relative. They then analyzed SARS-CoV-2 1/4 u2032s genetic material to estimate when it may have diverged from that closest known relative.

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Relatives of coronavirus may have been in bats for decades - Opelika Auburn News

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