Scientists conducted a genetic analysis of a new coronavirus from China and found out its most likely source, the results of the study are published in the journal Journal of Medical Virology.
The new coronavirus, which was first detected 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 SARS, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus MERS -CoV that have claimed hundreds of lives over the past 17 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) gave the new coronavirus the name 2019-nCoV.
Both SARS and MERS are classified as zoonotic viral diseases, that is, the first diseased acquired these viruses from animals. This became possible after being in the animal’s body, the virus underwent a series of genetic mutations that allowed it to infect humans.
At one time, studies showed that bats are the initial source of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, and camels and Himalayan civets are an intermediate link between them and humans.
Chinese scientists conducted 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 got to humans from snakes. In the body of these reptiles, a recombination of the viral protein occurred, after which its transmission from snakes to humans became possible.
The results of the study fully confirm the initial assumption that the primary source of the virus should be sought among 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 the tape krait and cobra – snakes that often hunt bats in the wild. These types of snakes were sold in a market in Wuhan.
The authors note that to confirm the hypothesis of the origin of the virus, it is necessary to take DNA samples of animals sold on the market, as well as wild snakes and bats. But after the outbreak, the market was disinfected and closed, making it difficult to track 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 the images obtained using an electron microscope resembles the solar corona. Coronaviruses are transmitted through the air and primarily affect the upper respiratory tract and the 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 infections and other complications in humans. The new 2019-nCoV coronavirus has symptoms similar to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, causing severe inflammatory reactions and pneumonia complications.