TORONTO – A consortium of international scientists has discovered a SARS-like virus recovered from a Chinese horseshoe bat.
The virus is the closest genetic match to the coronavirus that caused the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which sickened nearly 8,500 people in 29 countries and killed 916.
In fact, when the new virus was tested against stored blood samples from nine SARS cases, antibodies neutralized the virus in seven of the cases.
The scientists say that suggests the new virus, called WIV1, is very closely related to the SARS coronavirus.
They report that the virus was able to directly infect human cells in laboratory work, suggesting this means bat viruses like SARS may not have to pass through an intermediary host to start infecting people.
But other scientists say that just because something can be shown to happen in the artificial confines of a lab doesn’t mean it would actually work that way in nature.
The work was done by scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the New York-based conservation group EcoHealth Alliance, the University of California, Davis, the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong, East China Normal University at Shanghai and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.
The study is being published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.