Singapore – A recent study found horseshoe bats outside China also carrying coronaviruses similar to the one that causes Covid-19, indicating that the pandemic may not have necessarily originated in Wuhan, China.
Professor Wang Linfa from the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore told straitstimes.com on Tuesday (Feb 9) that it was likely that the Covid-19 virus entered Wuhan from another country.
Prof Wang, along with another co-author of the study published in the prestigious Nature Communications journal on Feb 9, explained that a coronavirus strain discovered in the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus acuminatus in Thailand had a 91.5 per cent similarity to the Covid-19-causing coronavirus, Sars-CoV-2.
To date, the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus affinis located in China’s Yunnan province had the closest affinity to Sars-CoV-2 with a genetic similarity of 96.2 per cent.
The study disclosed a colony of 300 bats was located in an artificial cave of a one-metre-diameter irrigation water pipe in a wildlife sanctuary in Chachoengsao (CS) province of eastern Thailand. A total of 100 bats were captured and sampled in June 2020. There was only one species of bat found at the site, which was identified as Rhinolophus acuminatus by morphology.
The report noted another study published as a pre-print pending peer review in January, where researchers also found coronaviruses with 92.6 per cent similarity to Sars-CoV-2 in the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus shameli in Cambodia.
It should be noted that all three species of horseshoe bats come from the genus Rhinolophus. There are over 100 species in this group spread across from Europe to Australia.
According to straitstimes.com, the three identified Rhinolophus species detected to be carriers of coronaviruses linked to Sars-CoV-2 cannot be found in Singapore. However, species related to them, such as the Trefoil horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus trifoliatus) and the Blyth’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus lepidus), can be found in Singapore, said National University of Singapore mammal researcher Marcus Chua.
“In conclusion, the current study provides further experimental evidence to support the notion that the distribution of SC2r-CoVs (Sars-CoV-2 related coronaviruses) is not limited to China,” noted the Nature Communications paper.
“Southeast Asia, due to its richness in both relevant bat species diversity and population density, may be more likely to be a hotspot for such viruses.”
The study added that the rich diversity of SC2r-CoVs in the region suggests a high probability of finding the immediate progenitor virus of SarS-CoV-2 with intensified and internationally coordinated surveillance./TISG
Read related: Too early to draw Covid origin conclusions: WHO
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