New SARS-like virus discovered in Chinese horseshoe bats

EcoHealth Alliance announced on Wednesday that a new SARS-like coronavirus has been discovered in Chinese horseshoe bats.

Alliance scientists and an international group of collaborators have uncovered genome sequences of the new virus that closely relate to the SARS coronavirus that erupted in Asia in 2002-2003 and caused a global pandemic crisis. The group was able to isolate the virus from bats, which allowed scientists to conduct detailed studies, create control measures to preempt outbreaks and start developing a vaccine.

Members of the research team came from China, Australia, Singapore and the United States. Results were published in the science journal Nature.

EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak said that discovering that bats can directly infect humans has great implications for public health control measures.

Zhengli Shi, director of emerging infectious diseases at Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said there have been disagreements about the origin of the virus that evolved into human SARS-CoV since 2003.

"Even though our team reported that bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses in 2005, we have been searching for this missing link for 10 years, and finally we've found it," Shi said.

Professor of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina Ralph Baric said the study provides "the most compelling information to date" that animal coronaviruses are programmed to transmit between species. He said the SARS-CoV is not extinct, but instead is "hiding" in animals.

"The study further demonstrates the critical importance of continued surveillance and the development of public health preparedness platforms to control these important and deadly emerging human coronaviruses," Baric said.