Studies of bats in China and Laos show southeast Asia is a hotspot for potentially dangerous viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2.
Scientists have found three viruses in bats in Laos that are more similar to SARS-CoV-2 than any known viruses. Researchers say that parts of their genetic code bolster claims that the virus behind COVID-19 has a natural origin — but their discovery also raises fears that there are numerous coronaviruses with the potential to infect people.
David Robertson, a virologist at the University of Glasgow, UK, calls the find “fascinating, and quite terrifying”.
The results, which are not peer reviewed, have been posted on the preprint server Research Square1. Particularly concerning is that the new viruses contain receptor binding domains that are almost identical to that of SARS-CoV-2, and can therefore infect human cells. The receptor binding domain allows SARS-CoV-2 to attach to a receptor called ACE2 on the surface of human cells to enter them.