According to the researchers, their findings in a single small area in southwest China’s Yunnan Province show how much coronavirus there is in bats and how much has the potential to spread to humans.
Weifeng Shi from Shandong University and his colleagues collected samples from small forest bats between May 2019 and November 2020. They tested urine and feces as well as swabs from the bats’ mouths.
One was very similar, genetically, to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is causing the current pandemic, they said – a viral sample called RpYN06 taken from a species of horseshoe bat called Rhinolophus pusillus.
It would be the closest strain to SARS-CoV-2, except for genetic differences on the spike protein, the button-like structure that the virus uses to attach to cells, they said.
“With the SARS-CoV-2-related virus collected in Thailand in June 2020, these results clearly demonstrate that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 continue to circulate in bat populations, and in some areas may appear. produce at a relatively high frequency, “they wrote.
Researchers are trying to find out where SARS-CoV-2 came from. Although a bat is a likely source, it is possible that the virus infected an intermediate animal. The SARS virus that caused an epidemic in 2002-2004 has been traced to an animal called a civet.
Most of the samples were from Horseshoe Bats species. In 2017, researchers sampling a cave in Yunnan found viruses very similar genetically to the SARS virus in horseshoe bats.
Three of the samples described in Thursday’s report were also genetically close to SARS.
“Our study highlights the remarkable diversity of bat coronaviruses locally, including close relatives of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV,” they wrote. The bat species they sampled are common throughout Southeast Asia, including southwest China, Vietnam, Laos, and elsewhere.
While there is some controversy over the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, a report from the World Health Organization indicates that the most likely source is an animal – likely a bat.
People hunt and eat bats, and bats can infect other animals that are also hunted and eaten by humans. Viruses can infect humans when they handle or slaughter animals.