Closely related COVID-19 viruses have long been in bats

Chinese horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus sinicus) carried the virus that caused the 2002 SARS outbreak in China. Scientists believe the current coronavirus that has caused the ongoing pandemic also originated in a bat and likely diverged from related viruses decades ago. Credit: Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Coronaviruses in the same lineage as the one responsible for the current pandemic have been circulating in bats for decades, researchers found. This provides more evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, likely evolved in bats and not pangolins or snakes, as some research has suggested. However, another species may have served as an intermediate host, helping the virus pass to humans. In a recent study, researchers examined genetic blueprints of the new coronavirus as well as 67 related viruses. After looking at the evolutionary relationship among them, the researchers suggest that the virus that leads to SARS-CoV-2 likely diverged from related viruses between 1948 and 1982.

Read the study in Nature Microbiology or check out the article in Science News.