Where and when did the novel coronavirus, which had threatening ripples and been on a rampage in more than 100 countries, start waving its threat?
While a lot about the virus is still unknown, part of the answer to that mystery, according to several researchers in an article in Women's Health published online by Yahoo, may have to do with an animal more commonly thought of as an important part of any good Halloween decoration display—the bat.
The novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan City in the central province of Hubei in China has spread across the globe, including Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, and is described as the product of natural evolution, according to findings them, quoting the journal Nature Medicine.
Word from researchers
How did bats get the novel coronavirus in the first place? It's unclear exactly how bats picked up novel coronavirus, but researchers do know they carry it and are the reason it's been passed on to humans.
COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means it is caused by an animal virus that has been picked up by humans, explains Richard J. Kuhn, PhD, a professor of biological sciences at Purdue University.
By Kuhn’s estimate, about 80 percent of viruses that exist are zoonotic viruses, and they work in both directions: animals can pass them to humans, and humans can pass them back to animals.
The novel coronavirus that caused this current outbreak comes from a family of zoonotic viruses. Viruses from this family have been passed to humans from animals before and usually result in cold- and flu-like respiratory symptoms for humans.
But the illnesses they cause can also lead to death in animals, according to a study from the University of California, Berkeley.
However, researchers have found that when bats contract these viruses, their particularly strong immune systems prevent them from getting sick or dying from the infections.
This means they can continue to carry and pass on the virus, whereas other animals that contract it may get sick and die, and therefore are less likely to pass it on.
The analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses also found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered.
Bat's immune system strong
The UC Berkeley researchers found that a bat’s immune system is so strong, in fact, that when a virus infects a bat, the animal’s immune system response is thought to cause the virus to adapt and replicate even faster.
That means when the virus infects an animal with a weaker immune system (let’s say a human), the virus is able to wreak havoc.
One of the reasons bats have such strong immune systems is thought to be the fact that they can fly, according to the UC Berkeley study.
When they fly, bats elevate their metabolic rates to a level that would hurt other mammals, but for bats, helped them develop an immune system that is able to quickly repair the cell damage caused by flight, the researchers found.
How did novel coronavirus spread from bats to humans, then?
As a virus jumps from species to species, it mutates, which means that researchers won't see an exact copy in animals of the novel coronavirus found in humans.
But scientists have found a 96 percent genetic match between the virus that's currently infecting humans and a coronavirus that is found in bats, according to a study published in Nature in February.