According to the researchers, their findings in a single small region of Yunnan Province, southwest China, show exactly how many coronaviruses there are in bats and how many of them have the potential to spread among humans.
Weifeng Shi of Shandong University and colleagues collected samples of small bats living in the forests between May 2019 and November 2020. They tested urine and feces, as well as took swabs from bats’ mouths.
One is very similar, genetically to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is causing the current pandemic, they said, a virus sample called RpYN06 taken from a horseshoe bat called Rhinolophus pusillus.
This would be the closest strain to SARS-CoV-2, except for genetic differences in the thorn protein, a button-like structure the virus uses when attached to cells, they said.
“Together with the SARS-CoV-2 virus collected from Thailand in June 2020, these results clearly show that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 continue to circulate in bat populations and in some regions. may occur with relatively high frequency, “they wrote.
Researchers are trying to find out where SARS-CoV-2 comes from. Although the bat is a likely source, it is possible that the virus has infected an intermediary animal. The SARS virus that caused the outbreak in 2002-2004 was followed in an animal called a flower cat.
Most samples come from horseshoe bat species. In 2017, researchers who took samples from a cave in Yunnan found viruses that are very genetically similar to the SARS virus in horseshoe bats.
Three of the samples described in Thursday’s report are also genetically similar to SARS.
“Our study highlights the remarkable diversity of bat coronaviruses locally, including close relatives of both SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV,” they wrote. The bat species from which they took samples are common in Southeast Asia, including southwestern China, Vietnam, Laos, and elsewhere.
Although there is some controversy about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, a World Health Organization report says the most likely source is an animal – probably a bat.
Humans hunt and eat bats, and bats can infect other animals, which are also hunted and eaten by humans. Viruses can infect humans when they fight or kill animals.