"Ghost Bats" by Sardaka / CC BY-SA 4.0

Ancestors of coronavirus have been hiding out in bats for decades, ready to infect humans

Jul 31, 2020

By Yasemin Saplakoglu

The ancestors of the novel coronavirus may have been circulating in bats unnoticed for decades. And those coronaviruses likely also had the ability to infect humans, according to a new study.

To understand where the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, came from and how it spread to humans, scientists need to trace its evolutionary history through the virus’s genes, which are encoded in ribonucleic acid, or RNA. But the evolutionary history of SARS-CoV-2 is complicated, because coronaviruses are known to frequently exchange genetic material with other coronaviruses.

That gene-swapping, called genetic recombination, also makes it difficult for scientists to pin down how the coronavirus first spread to humans; some researchers propose a direct bat-to-human transmission, while others hypothesize there was a middle species, such as pangolins, involved.

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