Study: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted from incremental shifts in bat virus

Smithers’ horseshoe bat is a relative of the bat that likely gave rise to the pandemic. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

When a virus jumps from one host to another, it usually acquires new capabilities to target cells beforehand.

But the SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to have needed little prior adaptation before causing a pandemic, according to a recent study in PLOS Biology.

The genus betacoronavirus to which SARS-CoV-2 belongs is notorious for its threat of jumping from animals to humans. Indeed, the genus is responsible for several outbreaks in the past two decades, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and, more recently, COVID-19.

The PLOS Biology study concluded that the nearest viral ancestor to SARS-CoV-2 is RmYN02, which evolved in bats. The ancestor virus of SARS-CoV-2 was likely a “relatively generalist virus” that was cap…

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