Samples of Covid-like bat virus were sent to Wuhan lab in 2013: Report

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on July 06, 2020

Samples of a virus that closely resembles the novel coronavirus were sent to a Wuhan lab seven years ago, according to a report by the Sunday Times.

Scientists in China found these virus samples in an abandoned mine back in 2013, after six men who had been cleaning out bat faeces from the mine in Yunnan contracted severe pneumonia similar to the infection caused by the novel coronavirus, the report said.

The “new strain” of the virus has been stored at the virology lab in Wuhan, where the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to have originated, it said.

The same mine was also studied by Shi Zhengli, an expert in bat coronaviruses, similar to the one that caused the SARS epidemic in 2003, Bloomberg reported.

According to the study, the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic has a 96.2 per cent similarity to a coronavirus sample dubbed RaTG13, obtained in Yunnan in 2013.

The RaTG13 is "almost certainly" the virus that was obtained from the abandoned mine, according to the Sunday Times report.

A similar study conducted by researchers at the University of Calgary, Canada, found that the SARS-CoV-2 may have been circulating amongst humans since at least 2013 in a different form. The findings of the study are available on Biorxiv.

Researchers examined the current variant of the spike protein of the novel coronavirus and how it binds to the ACE-2 receptor in humans (hACE-2). The binding is what helps the virus enter and lock on to human host cells. The study looked into 479 genome sequences of virus samples collected between December 30, 2019, and March 20, 2020.

The sequence was used to understand the evolutionary development of the virus and its relation to other closely related viruses.

The study also found similarities with bat and pangolin coronavirus. The genome of SARS-CoV-2 was found to be 96 per cent similar to RaTG13, according to the report. However, the study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet.

In an interview with CGTN, Wang Yanyi (Wang), an immunologist and director of the Wuhan institute, said the similarity was not that surprising.

“ From the perspective of many non-professionals, the similarity rate of 96.2 per cent is a very high number. But coronavirus is one of the RNA viruses that have the largest genomes,” Wang had said.

Wang further added that the virology lab at Wuhan doesn’t have any active samples of the virus, so the possibility of the novel coronavirus leaking from the lab was negligible.

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Published on July 06, 2020
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