As scientists across the world are ramping up their efforts to find the origin of the coronavirus that has now infected over 4.2 million people, new research has found a virus in bats that is similar to the SARS-CoV-2 which can provide a better understanding that the virus had evolved naturally and not manually produced in a lab. As the United States along with some European and western countries have blamed China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, researchers have considered bats as the natural hosts of the novel virus. However, the main origin still remains unclear.
In a study by Shandong First Medical University, China published in Current Biology, the virus which has rocked the world with the fatal COVID-19 disease contains natural insertions at the S1/S2 cleavage site of the spike protein. The bat-derived coronavirus has been denoted as RmYN02 for the research shares at least 93.3 per cent nucleotide identity with SARS-CoV-2 at the scale of the complete virus genome. However, even though it is not the direct evolutionary precursor of the novel coronavirus such mutations are possible in coronavirus evolution.
"Since the discovery of SARS-CoV-2 there have been a number of unfounded suggestions that the virus has a laboratory origin," said senior study author Weifeng Shi, a professor at the Shandong First Medical University.
Meanwhile, researchers in London have recently found out that the deadly coronavirus which has now infected over 4.1 million people across the world is “well adapted to humans”. After the analysis of over five thousand strains of SARS-CoV-2 from at least 62 countries, the scientists noted that the virus is fairly stable but has gained some mutations including the changes in the genome that impacts the ‘spike protein’ that is used by the virus to infect the human cells.
In a non-peer reviewed study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine states that it still remains unclear how the modifications in the strain are affecting the coronavirus. However, since these mutations have occurred independently in different countries, it is speculated that the novel virus is benefitted by them. According to the study, the researchers have not yet determined if “they affect therapies or vaccines to combat the virus or are making the virus more aggressive”.