Hunting for the Coronavirus’s Origin

More than a year after Covid-19 touched off the worst pandemic in more than a century, scientists have yet to determine its origins. The closest related viruses to SARS-CoV-2 were found in bats over 1,000 miles from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease erupted in late 2019. Initially, cases were tied to a fresh food market and possibly the wildlife sold there. An investigation in early 2021 has highlighted the possibility that they acted as a vector, transferring the virus from bats to humans. More politically charged theories allege the virus accidentally escaped from a nearby research laboratory, or entered China from another country via imported frozen food. Amid all the posturing, governments and scientists agree that deciphering the creation story.

Three closely related viruses to SARS-CoV-2 that had been collected during the previous 15 years. The closest, about 96% identical, was isolated from a species of horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus affinis, in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan in 2013. Some researchers have linked that particular virus to a mineshaft in Mojiang county there, where six men contracted a pneumonia-like disease in 2012 that killed three of them. Although they may share a common ancestor, the two are not similar enough to indicate SARS-CoV-2 was derived from the Yunnan virus. Sampling of bats in Hubei province, which includes Wuhan, haven’t found any positive for the pandemic strain. Coronaviruses sharing genetic features with SARS-CoV-2 have been found in other bat species and pangolins, a scaly, ant-eating mammal, elsewhere in Asia, highlighting the broad distribution that may have contributed to its evolution.