• By The Financial District


A Chinese team has identified 24 previously unknown coronaviruses among bats in Yunnan province and researchers said they were astonished to find such a huge number within a radius of 2 kilometers.

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Reporting for the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on March 14, 2021, Stephen Chen said none of the 24 bat coronaviruses appears to be the direct ancestor of new coronavirus causing COVID-19, He added that the research paper, which was not peer-reviewed, shows a closely matching virus to the one behind pandemic, with different spike protein.

One virus carried “a genomic backbone arguably the closest to SARS-CoV-2 identified to date.”

Beijing has continued to fund numerous research teams collecting and studying bat viruses across the country. Among them was the team, led by Professor Shi Weifong of Shandong First Medical University, which was responsible for the latest research published by preprint biology server bioRxiv.org.

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Shi’s team was most surprised to collect such richly diversified strains from such a small area in Yunnan province, where they collected more than 400 samples – of droppings, urine and oral swabs – between May 2019 and November last year. Scientists from other countries, including Australia, took part in field trips and data analysis. “The genomic diversity of these viruses has likely been underestimated,” they said.

The closest matching virus, RpYN06, had a 94.5 percent similarity to SARS-CoV-2 across the whole genome – slightly lower than RaTG13, another bat virus collected in Yunnan several years ago with a 96 percent match.

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Both had different spike proteins to the virus responsible for COVID-19, but in other respects, RpYN06 appeared more closely related. According to Shi and his colleagues, this suggested the ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 had departed from the RpYN06 and TG13 lineages several decades ago and gone through a recombination event by mingling with a different viral species.

When that may have occurred, and on which host animal, they could not say. Besides the SARS-CoV-2 related strains, Shi’s team identified three viruses related to Sars – another deadly strain responsible for an epidemic in 2003. They also discovered 17 new types of coronaviruses related to two strains that may cause fetal illnesses in pigs.


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