In a shocking revelation, Chinese researchers claim to have found a batch of new coronaviruses in bats. They even say that the newly found viruses in the bats include one that may be the second-closest yet (genetically) to the COVID-19 virus, reports CNN.
According to the researchers, their discoveries in a single, small region of Yunnan province, southwestern China show just how many coronaviruses there are in bats and how many have the potential to spread to people.
In a report published in the journal Cell, the Chinese researchers from Shandong University said, “In total, we assembled 24 novel coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2 like coronaviruses.”
One was very similar, genetically to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that’s the cause of the current COVID-19 pandemic, they said.
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, they said.
Researchers are trying to find where SARS-CoV-2 came from. Although a bat is a likely source, it’s possible the virus infected an intermediary animal. The SARS virus that caused an outbreak in 2002-2004 was tracked to an animal called a civet cat.
Three of the samples described in Thursday’s report were also close to SARS genetically.
This discovery of new coronaviruses in bats comes at a time when scientists and countries across the world are calling for further investigations to figure out whether the virus originated naturally or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.