Washington: At a time when there are renewed calls to probe the origin of COVID-19, a batch of 24 new coronaviruses has been claimed to be detected in bats by Chinese researchers.
According to CNN, one of those could be the second-closest yet (genetically) to the COVID-19 virus.
The report, based on a study by researchers from Shandong University, has been published in the journal Cell.
“In all, we assembled 24 novel coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2 like coronaviruses,” the report stated.
Urine and faeces samples, as well as swabs from mouths were collected from small bats in forests, between May 2019 and November 2020.
The Chinese said one of the viruses was very similar, genetically, to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would be the closest strain to SARS-CoV-2 except for genetic differences on the spike protein, the knob-like structure that the virus uses when attaching to cells,” they said.
“Together with the SARS-CoV-2 related virus collected from Thailand in June 2020, these results clearly demonstrate that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 continue to circulate in bat populations, and in some regions might occur at a relatively high frequency,” they wrote.
A year and a half since coronavirus was first detected in China’s Wuhan city, its origin remains a mystery.
Several scientists, however, believe that the virus originated naturally or was leaked from Wuhan Institute of Virology.
China has vehemently denied that theory.