Chinese Scientists Discover 24 new Coronavirus species in Bats

Colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) showing three spherical-shaped Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) virions
Photo: Getty Images

The team found 24 new types of coronaviruses in bat feces and urine, that could help find the origin of SARS-CoV-2.

Research at Shandong University discovered at least 24 new members of the coronavirus family, a species known for at least 50 years and responsible for three epidemics so far this century.

The results were obtained by analyzing 411 oral swab, feces, and urine samples from 342 bats in Yunnan Province, southwestern China, and allowed researchers to fully identify the genome of 24 different types of coronaviruses, all present in horseshoe bats of the genus Rhinolophus, which includes 49 species found throughout South Asia.

horseshoe bats of the genus Rhinolophus,
Greater Horsehoe Bat, rhinolophus ferrumequinum, Colony Hibernating in a Cave, Normandy /Getty Images

The main goal of the research to learn more about the species that act as reservoirs for different types of coronaviruses is to add to the most accepted hypothesis about the origin of SARS-CoV-2:

According to WHO, the virus was transmitted from bats, which served as natural hosts, to an unknown animal that served as as an intermediate host from which it made the final leap to our species. However, an emerging group of scientists in the United States intends to conduct further research to investigate the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 may have accidentally escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan.

The samples revealed the presence of at least four other types of coronaviruses that are very similar to SARS-CoV-2, with a focus on the one found in the RpYN06 sample. It is a virus with a structure that is “genetically very similar” to the new coronavirus; apart from a number of a few differences in the protein that causes its adhesion to human cells.

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Of all the coronaviruses known prior to this study (about four dozen), only seven are capable of causing disease in humans.

In turn, in the last century, three of them have caused epidemics of varying magnitude: the first was SARS-CoV identified in China in 2002, followed by MERS-CoV, which struck the Arab world in 2012, and finally, SARS-CoV-2, which emerged in China in late 2019.

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