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The newly discovered bat virus hints at the origin of Covid




In the summer of 2020, six months after the coronavirus pandemic, scientists visited forests in northern Laos to catch bats that may have relatives of the pathogen.

At midnight, they used mist nets and canvas traps to catch animals from nearby caves, collect samples of saliva, urine, and feces and return them to darkness.

The stool sample was found to contain coronavirus. The coronavirus was studied by scientists in a high-security biosafety lab known as BSL-3 using special protective equipment and air filters.

Three of the Lao coronaviruses were rare. They had a molecular hook on the surface that was very similar to the hook of the virus that causes Covid-19 called SARS-CoV-2. Like SARS-CoV-2, their hooks allowed them to hang on human cells.

“It’s even better than the early strains of SARS-CoV-2,” said Mark Eloit, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, who led the study. I just mentioned how well they combine.Research Post It was online last month and has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

Virus experts are talking about this discovery. Some people suspect that these viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, may already infect people from time to time, causing only mild and limited outbreaks. However, under the right circumstances, pathogens can cause pandemics like Covid-19, they say.

The findings are also Paid discussion Experts say about the origin of Covid. Some people speculate that the impressive ability of SARS-CoV-2 to infect human cells could not be evolved by natural spillover from animals. But new discoveries seem to suggest that this is not the case.

Michael Worobey, a virologist at the University of Arizona who was not involved in the study, said:

These bat viruses, along with more than 12 other viruses found in the last few months in Laos, Cambodia, China and Thailand, may help researchers better predict future pandemics. The viral family tree provides hints on where potentially dangerous strains are lurking and which animals scientists need to look at to find them.

Last week, the U.S. government announced $ 125 million business Identify thousands of wild viruses in Asia, Latin America, and Africa to determine the risk of spillover. Dr. Eloit predicted that there were still many relatives of SARS-CoV-2.

“I’m fly fishing,” he said. “If you can’t catch trout, that doesn’t mean there aren’t trout in the river.”

When SARS-CoV-2 first came to light, the closest known relative was the bat coronavirus discovered by Chinese researchers in a mine in Yunnan province in southern China in 2016. As is known, RaTG13 shares 96 percent of its genome with SARS-CoV-2. Scientists estimate that RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2 share a common bat-infected ancestor, based on the mutations that each virus has. About 40 years ago..

Both viruses use molecular hooks called “receptor-binding domains” to infect cells and latch them on the surface of the cell. RaTG13 hooks adapted for attachment to bat cells Cling weakly To human cells. In contrast, SARS-CoV-2 hooks can hold cells in the human airways. This is the first step towards a potentially deadly case of Covid-19.

To find other relatives of SARS-CoV-2, wildlife virus experts checked the freezer full of old samples from around the world.They identified some similar coronaviruses from South China, Cambodia, When sea ​​bream.. Most came from bats, but some came from scaly mammals known as pangolins. No relatives were closer than the RaTG13.

Instead, Dr. Eloit and his colleagues set out to find a new coronavirus.

They traveled to northern Laos, about 150 miles from the mine where Chinese researchers discovered the RaTG13. Over a period of more than 6 months, we have caught 645 bats from 45 different species. Bats carry 20 coronaviruses, three of which were significantly similar to SARS-CoV-2, especially in the receptor-binding domain.

In RaTG13, 11 of the 17 major components of the domain are the same as those of SARS-CoV-2. However, of the three viruses from Laos, as many as 16 were identical, the closest ever.

Dr. Eloit speculated that one or more coronaviruses could infect humans and cause mild illness.Separately study, He and his colleagues took blood samples from Lao people who collect bat guano to earn a living. Lao people showed no signs of being infected with SARS-CoV-2, but had immune markers called antibodies that appeared to have been caused by a similar virus.

Linfa Wang, a molecular virologist at Duke NUS School of Medicine in Singapore who was not involved in the study, said such an infection because the newly discovered virus could attach tightly to a protein on human cells called ACE2. Agreed to be possible.

“These people are dangerous if the receptor-binding domain is ready to use ACE2,” said Dr. Wang.

Paradoxically, some other genes of the three Laoviruses are more distantly associated with SARS-CoV-2 than other bat viruses. The cause of this genetic patchwork is the complex evolution of the coronavirus.

If a bat infected with one coronavirus catches a second bat, two different viruses can become one cell at a time. As the cells begin to replicate each of their viruses, their genes are shuffled together to produce new viral hybrids.

In Lao coronavirus, this gene shuffling provides a receptor-binding domain that closely resembles SARS-CoV-2. The first gene exchange took place about 10 years ago, according to a preliminary analysis by Spyros Lytras, a graduate student at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Lytras and his colleagues are now comparing SARS-CoV-2 not only with the new virus from Laos, but also with other relatives found in recent months. They are finding more evidence of genetic shuffle. This process (known as recombination) may reshape the virus each year.

“It’s becoming more and more clear how important recombination is,” Lytras said.

Based on these new insights, he and his colleagues are now drawing a messy evolutionary tree of viruses like SARS-CoV-2. Finding more viruses can help give the big picture. But scientists are divided on where to look for them.

Dr. Eloit believes that the best bet is where his colleagues discovered the coronavirus and in the Southeast Asian zone, which includes a mine near Yunnan where RaTG13 was discovered.

“I think the main landscapes correspond to northern Vietnam, northern Laos and southern China,” said Dr. Eloit.

A new US government virus hunting project called DEEP VZN has the potential to discover one or more SARS-CoV-2-like viruses in the area. A spokesman for USAID, the institution funding the effort, cited Vietnam as one of the countries researchers search for and said the new coronavirus is one of its top priorities.

Other scientists find it worthwhile to look further for relatives of SARS-CoV-2. Dr. Wolobay of the University of Arizona said several bat coronaviruses carrying segments such as SARS-CoV-2 have been found in eastern China and Thailand.

“Clearly, recombination shows that these viruses are part of a single gene pool of hundreds of miles or more, if not thousands of miles,” Dr. Wolobay said.

Georgetown University biologist Colin Carlson suspects that a virus that can cause outbreaks, such as Covid, may be lurking further away. He said bats share many biological features with animals known to carry viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, east to Indonesia and west to India.

“This is not just a Southeast Asian issue,” said Dr. Carlson. “These viruses are diverse and more international than we thought.”

Interest in the origin of pandemics is drawing new attention to the safety measures researchers are using when studying potentially dangerous viruses. According to a USAID spokesman, to win a DEEP VZN grant, scientists need biosafety and biosecurity, including staff training, guidelines for on-site protective equipment, and laboratory work safety measures. Need to provide a plan for.

Even if scientists find a better place for SARS-CoV-2, that doesn’t necessarily mean they pose a deadly threat. They do not spread to humans or, as some scientists speculate, can cause only small outbreaks. Only seven coronaviruses are known to jump over species barriers and become established human pathogens.

Jessica Metcalf, an evolutionary ecologist at Princeton University, said:

Still, recombination may turn a virus that goes nowhere into a new threat. May, researcher report Two canine coronaviruses have been recombined in Indonesia. The result was a hybrid that infected eight children.

“When we think the coronavirus we’ve been watching for decades can be obtained by pets, we can jump. Should we see it coming?” Carlson Said the doctor.




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