Scientists have conducted a genetic analysis of the new coronavirus from China and found out its most likely source, the results of the study are published in the Journal of Medical Virology.
The novel coronavirus, first reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan, a major city in central China, belongs to the same virus family as the well-known severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or SARS-CoV, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus MERS -CoV, which have claimed hundreds of lives over the past 17 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV.
Both SARS and MERS are classified as zoonotic viral diseases, meaning that the first people to get sick acquired these viruses from animals. This became possible after, while in the body of an animal, the virus underwent a number of genetic mutations that allowed it to infect humans.
At one time, studies have shown that the original source of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV are bats, and the intermediate link between them and humans are camels and Himalayan civets.
Chinese scientists have carried out a detailed genetic analysis of the new virus and compared its results with the available genetic information for other viruses. The researchers concluded that 2019-nCoV is a combination of a coronavirus found in bats and another coronavirus of unknown origin, and it came to humans from snakes. In the body of these reptiles, a viral protein recombined, after which it became possible to transfer it from snakes to humans.
The results of the study fully support the initial assumption that the primary source of the virus must be found among the products sold on the wholesale market in Wuhan, which has become the epicenter of the spread of the disease.
The carriers of the deadly virus, according to scientists, are tape krait and cobra - snakes that often hunt bats in the wild. These types of snakes were sold at the market in Wuhan.
The authors note that in order to confirm the hypothesis of the origin of the virus, it is necessary to take DNA samples from animals sold on the market, as well as wild snakes and bats. But after the outbreak of the disease, the market was disinfected and closed, making it difficult to trace the source of the new virus. In any case, the results obtained are extremely important for understanding the 2019-nCoV life cycle and developing a vaccine against it.
The name of the coronavirus comes from its shape, which in images taken with an electron microscope resembles the solar corona. Coronaviruses are airborne and primarily affect the upper respiratory tract and gastrointestinal tract of mammals and birds. Although most members of this family of viruses cause only mild flu symptoms, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can infect the upper and lower respiratory tract and result in respiratory illness and other complications in humans. The new 2019-nCoV coronavirus has symptoms similar to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, causing severe inflammatory reactions and complications such as pneumonia.