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Researchers found a COVID-19 relative in horseshoe bats

Researchers found three bats that have viruses that are similar to the novel coronavirus

A radio transmitter is inserted into a little brown bat.
A radio transmitter is inserted into a little brown bat in an abandoned mine in Rosendale, N.Y., on Jan. 27, 2009.
Associated Press

Researchers have discovered a group of horseshoe bats that carry coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease and has left a grim stamp on the world population for the last 18 months.

Researchers from the Pasteur Institute and the University of Laos found the horseshoe bats living in a cave in Laos, a Southeast Asian country bordered by Myanmar and China.

  • They published their findings in a new study, which is pre-print and has not been peer-reviewed.
  • The study is under consideration for publication in the medical journal Nature.

Per Reuters, tests confirmed that there was a close relative to the coronavirus among these bats, which were collected in 2010 and kept in freezers until now.

  • “We hope that the result from this study can help the world to have a better understanding about COVID-19,” field coordinator Thavry Hoem told Reuters.

Indeed, the researchers found a coronavirus strain that may “be the closest known ancestor of Sars-CoV-2,” per South China Morning Post. The new ancestor viruses may have slight mutations that made it easier for the novel coronavirus to spread quickly among humans.

  • “These viruses may have contributed to Sars-CoV-2’s origin and may intrinsically pose a future risk of direct transmission to humans,” the researchers said, according to South China Morning Post.

Bats often carry coronaviruses without symptoms, so it’s hard to identify them. However, they could transfer to humans or other animals, which can lead to “devastating” outcomes, according to Reuters.