Bats likely origin of new coronavirus, says study

Zhang Zhihao

CHINA DAILY – The new coronavirus in the ongoing outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province, is likely to have originated from bats, and is genetically more identical to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), than the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), according to a study published online yesterday.

However, the new virus is neither SARS nor MERS, but a relative that belongs to a different class called the betacoronavirus, a single-strand RNA virus that can infect wild animals, livestock and humans.

The new virus may have originated from bats like SARS, but there might be more intermediate hosts between bats and humans, according to the study.

The paper was published by the Journal of Science China Life Sciences by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Beijing Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Guangzhou Medical University.

The researchers also found that the new virus may share a similar transmission mechanism with that of SARS, which is infecting cells of the respiratory tract.

However, the paper suggests the infectiousness of the new virus might be lower than SARS and its structure is easier to break apart due to some of its genetic features.

A Beijing expert in the sector who requested anonymity said the paper’s model was based on test examples from the early period of the outbreak, and mutations can occur that may lead to different results.

A staff member screens arriving passengers with thermal scanners at Hankou railway station in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province. PHOTO: AFP