Coronaviruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 found in lab freezers

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The virus responsible for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic belongs to the broad family of viruses known as coronaviruses. They cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The COVID-19 virus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, is the latest type of coronaviruses known to infect people. It’s been almost a year now since the COVID-19 outbreak began in China’s Wuhan city, but the origin of the virus remains a mystery. Also Read – Pneumonia, rotavirus vaccines may reduce impact of COVID-19

Bats are recognized as the natural reservoirs of a large variety of viruses. Some studies have also pointed to bats as the most likely hosts of the novel coronavirus. Also Read – Dosing error: AstraZeneca faces tough questions on ‘key mistake’ about COVID-19 vaccine

Further adding weight to this theory, researchers have found coronaviruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 in bats stored in laboratory freezers in Cambodia and Japan. The surprising finding was revealed in a study paper published in the journal Nature. Also Read – Good news for Covid-19 survivers: Damaged lungs can repair themselves

First known relatives of SARS-CoV-2 to be found outside China

In Cambodia, the virus was found in two Shamel’s horseshoe bats, which were captured in the north of the country in 2010 and stored in a freezer. Another closely related coronavirus was also found in frozen bat droppings in Japan.

According to the authors of the study, these two viruses are the first known relatives of SARS-CoV-2 to be found outside China. They noted that the new findings support the World Health Organisation’s search across Asia to investigate the animal origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the names of the scientists on an international team tracing the origins of the new coronavirus. The 10-member team includes public health experts, animal health specialists and virus hunters from Japan, Qatar, Germany, Vietnam, Russia, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States.

The team will work alongside Chinese scientists on a set of investigations into how the virus that causes Covid-19 emerged and spilled over into humans.

With inputs from IANS

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