A large-scale census of coronaviruses, which infect 36 species of African bats, have shown that they have been infecting bats for millions of years. Scientists published the results of this census in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, the press service of the Fields Museum of Natural History writes briefly about this.
"We have found that coronaviruses and bats share a long history of co-evolution. Understanding how it has proceeded will help us prepare the public health system for potential new outbreaks of coronavirus infections from animals," said one of the authors of the work, a biologist from Fields Museum of Natural History Stephen Goodman.
According to scientists, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which caused the global pandemic of the COVID-19 disease, is a close relative of the coronaviruses that infect horseshoe bats. These bats live in China, the countries of Southeast Asia and Africa.
As the history of the last half century shows, bats have been the source of many other dangerous viruses, including the causative agents of Ebola, SARS, and Middle East respiratory syndrome.
Pedigree of coronaviruses
Having studied how often these pathogens are found in the blood and other biological fluids of bats that inhabit Madagascar, the Indian Ocean islands and Africa, Goodman and his colleagues found that coronaviruses have coexisted with bats for almost the entire history of their evolution.
In total, scientists have obtained similar data for more than a thousand bats from different regions of Mozambique, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion and a number of archipelagos in the Indian Ocean. More than 8% of bats and fruit bats were carriers of various types of coronaviruses.
Having studied the structure of their genomes, biologists found that each species, genus and family of bats corresponded to their own types of pathogens. They were not like other strains of coronaviruses that infect other African and island bats. As the observations of scientists have shown, viruses were very rarely transmitted between different species of bats, even in those cases when different species of them lived in the same caves.
Considering that many representatives of these genera and families are separated by millions and tens of millions of years of independent evolution, this means that coronaviruses began to infect bats in the distant past. Since then, they have evolved along with their hosts, adapting to changes in the biology of each species of bats and fruit bats.
This factor, according to biologists, must be taken into account when looking for a possible ancestral home of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, as well as when assessing the likelihood of the next similar epidemics caused by diseases of bats and other bats.