New coronaviruses found in bats
Three new SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses, which “could represent a risk for human health,” have been discovered in Laos bats.
The scientists, from the Institut Pasteur du Laos and the National University of Laos, believe that their findings, which were published on Wednesday in Nature magazine, add weight to the theory of an animal origin of Covid-19.
According to the paper, three viruses, named BANAL-103, BANAL-236 and BANAL-52, have genomic similarities to pandemic-causing SARS-CoV-2, especially in a “key domain of the spike protein that enables the virus to bind to host cells.”
Using various techniques, including crystallography and computational simulations of molecular dynamics, the scientists discovered that these three viruses are able to enter human cells via the same receptor as SARS-CoV-2.
"The existence of these viruses discovered in the bat animal reservoir backs up the theory that SARS-CoV-2 may originate from bats living in the vast karst highlands in the Indochina peninsula, which stretches across Laos, Vietnam and China,” Head of the Pathogen Discovery laboratory at the Institut Pasteur Marc Eloit said, adding that the result suggested that “other related viruses could represent a risk for human health.”
The discovery follows the recent publication of research on the bat-originated strain of coronavirus NeoCoV. Chinese scientists concluded that this “enigmatic” strain, being the closest relative of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), is capable, subject to mutation, of infecting people and therefore should be considered as “a potential bio-safety threat” to mankind.
MERS-CoV, now designated by the World Health Organization as a likely cause of future pandemics, caused outbreaks in 21 countries in 2015.
Bats represent “a natural reservoir of a wide variety of coronavirus variants,” immunologist Vladimir Bolibok said in an interview with RT in January.
Amid the current pandemic, which, according to one hypothesis, was also caused by a bat-related coronavirus, scientists around the world have intensified their research into diseases in the animals.