Virologist Shi Zhengli warns of new SARS-like pandemic caused by bats
Published: May 24, 2020 04:34 PM

A healthcare worker waits for patients to be tested at a walk-in COVID-19 testing site on Tuesday inArlington, Virginia.  Photo: AFP


Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli has warned of the risks of a new SARS-like pandemic caused by bats after studies have found there is an evolutionary arms race between coronavirus and its host, which encourages genetic diversity in the virus. 

While the world is still trying to deduce the origins of the virus and some are trying to blame China for the pandemic and claiming the new coronavirus escaped from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Shi, a target of the unproven theories, published new findings and further confirmed that the horseshoe bat is a natural host of the coronavirus, causing the COVID-19 epidemic. 

The research finds that the horseshoe bat carries many coronaviruses with high genetic diversity, particularly in the spike protein. Some viruses inside the bats can utilize the orthologs of human protein, called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which is a human SARS-CoV receptor, to enter and infect human cells. 

SARS-CoV represents severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) related coronavirus. 

Shi's study was first published on the platform bioRxiv under the title "Evolutionary arms race between virus and host drives genetic diversity in bat SARS related coronavirus spike genes" on May 14. 

The finding says that the SARSr-CoV spike protein and horseshoe bat ACE2 may have co-evolved over time and experienced selection pressure from each other, triggering the evolutionary arms race dynamics. It further proves that the horseshoe bat is the natural host of SARSr-CoVs. 

Continued surveillance of this group of viruses in bats is necessary in order to prevent the next SARS-like disease, according to Shi's study.