Findings are those of Chinese researches, but others are not so sure
AGENCIES, Paris: Chinese researchers investigating the animal origin of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China have said the endangered pangolin may be the “missing link” between bats and humans, but other scientists said the search may not be over.
An earlier study ̶ since discredited ̶ pointed to snakes, and there remain numerous candidate species in the Wuhan wildlife market thought to be Ground Zero of the epidemic.
The SARS outbreak of 2002-3, involving a different strain of coronavirus, was transferred to humans by the civet, a small mammal prized in China for its flesh.
Many animals are capable of transmitting viruses to other species, and nearly all strains of the coronavirus contagious to humans originated in wildlife.
Bats are known carriers of the latest strain of the disease, which has infected at least 31,000 people and killed more than 630 worldwide, mostly in China where the outbreak originate.
A recent genetic analysis showed that the strain of the virus currently spreading among humans was 96 per cent identical to that found in bats. But according to Arnaud Fontanet, from France’s Pasteur Institute, the disease likely didn’t jump straight from bats to humans. “We think there’s another animal that’s an intermediary,” he said.
Several studies have shown that the bat-borne virus lacks the necessary hardware to latch on to human cell receptors. But it’s still not clear which animal is the missing link. Fontanet believes the intermediary was “probably a mammal”, possible belonging to the badger family.
After testing more than 1,000 samples from wild animals, scientists at the South China Agricultural University found the genome sequences of viruses in pangolins to be 99 per cent identical to those on coronavirus patients, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
But other experts urged caution. “This is not scientific evidence,” said James Wood, head of the department of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge. “Investigations into animal reservoirs are extremely important, but results must be published for international scrutiny.”