Back in 2014, somewhere in the Yunnan Province, China, a group of researchers found a cave full of wild bats carrying virus strains similar to SARS.
The team’s paper, published in 2015, suggested a connection between SARS and bats for the first time. The virologist who conducted that research, Shi Zhengli, has now claimed that one of the strains could be incredibly similar to the novel coronavirus that has infected thousands and killed more than 1,000 people.
Is There A Connection Between Bats and Coronavirus?
Professor Shi apparently found a connection between the 2019-nCoV, now officially known as COVID-19, in the database set when the researching team worked on the wild bats study. However, the professor swore on her life that the virus was not leaked from the lab.
“It was Ms. Shi and her collaborators who, back in 2005, showed that the SARS pathogen was a bat virus,” David Quammem, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic wrote in The New York Times. “Ms. Shi and colleagues have been tracing coronaviruses in bats since then, warning that some of them are uniquely suited to cause human pandemics.”
“In a 2017 paper, they set out how, after nearly five years of collecting fecal samples from bats in the Yunnan cave, they had found coronaviruses in multiple individuals of four different species of bats, including one called the intermediate horseshoe bat, because of the half-oval flap of skin protruding like a saucer around its nostrils. Ominously, the findings revealed the COVID-19 strain sourced to Wuhan was “distinct from all other coronaviruses.””
In this end, 2019-nCoV is new, and probably even more hazardous to humans than the other coronaviruses found in bats, Quammem said.
Professor Shi discovered that three percent of the people living near the Yunnan cave had developed immunity to the pathogen, which means that people could have been infected with it in the past.
Is COVID-19 a Possible Laboratory Leak?
Dr. Peter Daszak, who runs EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based private research organization that concentrates on the link between human and wildlife health, collaborated with Professor Shi on the 2015 study, as well as on another one that took place in 2017.
“We’ve been raising the flag on these viruses for 15 years — ever since SARS,” he told Quammem for his Times article.
Dr. Daszak said that the immunity against SARS-like pathogens in some people in Yunnan needed much more analysis: “We don’t know if they got sick. We don’t know if they were exposed as children or adults,” he said.
Even though there is definitely clear that Professor Shi’s work on coronaviruses is innovative, numerous people condemn her for causing the Wuhan outbreak. In the last few weeks, she has been the topic of claims that COVID-19 leaked from her laboratory, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is based at the core of the epidemics.
“Work like this usually gets plaudits and praise, and sure enough Shi moved into the limelight. But for all the wrong reasons,” the South China Morning Post reported. “Daily internet searches for Shi’s name increased 2000 times (in the wake of the outbreak), yet most posts on China’s internet and social media about her were negative. Some people called Shi the “mother of the devil.””
Professor Shi has since denied all the allegations.