General, Research, Technology

Coronavirus and Bats - Millions of Years of Friendship

While the whole world is shaken by conspiracy theories about a newcoronavirus and its origin, scientists continue to work. Researchers recently compared different species of coronaviruses, the natural hosts of which are 36 bat species from the western Indian Ocean and the surrounding African region. It turned out that different groups of bats have their own unique strains of coronavirus. This means that bats and coronaviruses have evolved together over millions of years. Moreover, scientists were able to discover four new species of African bats - the cousins ​​of the horseshoe bats, which are believed to be the natural hosts of SARS-CoV-2, which causes CoVID-19.

Scientists have discovered four new species of bats in Africa

What you need to know about bats?

Although bats are usually spoken of asmonsters with membranous wings, who love to drink blood, in fact the vast majority of bats eat insects, and leaf-bearing bats are completely herbivorous: they feed on fruits, nectar or pollen. And only the largest species do not hesitate to dine with frogs, lizards and birds. Vampire bats live mainly in South America and feed on the blood of vertebrates and mammals. Read about how these blind animals hunt in the material of my colleague Ramis Ganiev.

Although not obvious, bats bringThe world has many benefits - they pollinate plants, feed on pathogenic insects and help disperse the seeds needed to regenerate tropical rainforest trees. Moreover, bats, like a number of other groups of mammals, are natural carriers of coronaviruses.

See also: Why are bats considered ideal disease vectors?

Bats - a generic name for representatives of the bats squad

It should be noted that viruses live in allanimals and bats, as well as a number of other groups of mammals, are simply their natural hosts. For the bats themselves, these coronaviruses are not dangerous, but there is a possibility that they can spread to other animals. Remember the outbreak of coronavirus MERS (Middle Eastern Severe Respiratory Syndrome)? People were infected by camels that were infected by bats. And this is not the only example of how viruses roam between species.

Bats and coronaviruses

According to Science Daily, to preventoutbreaks of a deadly infection in the future, scientists conducted a genetic analysis of the coronaviruses present in 36 species of bats. By comparing coronaviruses isolated and sequenced with other animals, including dolphins, alpacas and humans, the researchers were able to build a giant genealogical tree of coronaviruses. This family tree shows how different types of coronavirus are related to each other.

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According to the results published inScientific Reports magazine, scientists found that in rare cases, bats of different families, genera and species that live in the same caves and have closely spaced daytime roosts share the same strain of coronavirus. Moreover, in a new study, the transfer of strains between species is an exception, not a rule. According to the authors of the study, the fact that the transmission of coronavirus in the region between two species of bats is very rare, is encouraging.

Many bats eat fruits

However, the most important finding of the studyis the ultimate understanding that bats and coronaviruses have evolved together over millions of years. Moreover, SARS-CoV-2 occurred naturally, as can be read more in the article on the origin of CoVID-19.

As scientists note, studying the evolution of variousstrains of coronavirus may be key to preventing future outbreaks. Of course, today everyone is interested in finding a cure for CoVID-19, but in order to prevent a recurrence of the pandemic, we must develop an effective public health program. If we had one today, the world would not be in a regime of self-isolation. It is important to understand that a sufficiently large number of viruses can be transmitted to humans from animals.

New species of bats

Another equally important discovery was the work,published in ZooKeys magazine. According to the authors of the study, CoVID-19 came to us from a horseshoe-shaped bat that lives in China. China is the birthplace of at least 30 species of horseshoe bats, but it is not yet known which of them is the “source” of the new coronavirus. Moreover, scientists cannot yet say whether different strains of coronaviruses are transmitted between different species of bats.

Most likely it is bats that we owe to the CoVID-19 pandemic

During the study, scientists studied leafybats of the Hipposideridae family. This family is distributed throughout Africa, Asia and Australia, but African representatives of Hipposideridae are poorly understood. The results showed that in some cases, the supposedly widespread species turned out to be genetically different species, which at the same time looked the same. The DNA of these species, the authors of the article write, hints that they evolved separately from their cousins ​​- horseshoe bats.

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So, genetic studies have shown that in the world there are at least four new and undescribed species of bats. It is scary to think which strains of coronaviruses are hidden in their small bodies.