New York- In the summer of 2020, half a year after the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, scientists traveled to the forests of northern Laos to hunt bats that could harbor cousins from this virus.
In the dead of night, they used mist nets and cloth traps to catch animals as they emerged from nearby caves, collecting samples of saliva, urine and feces, and then leaving them in the dark.
Stool samples were found to contain the coronavirus, which scientists studied at high-security biosafety laboratories, known as BSL-3, using specialized protective equipment and air filters.
Three of the Laotian coronaviruses were unusual: They carried a molecular hook on their surface that closely resembled that of the virus that causes Covid-19, called SARS-CoV-2. Like SARS-CoV-2, the hook allowed them to stick to human cells.
“It’s even better than the early SARS-CoV-2 strains,” said Mark Elwett, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris who led the study, noting how closely Lau’s coronal hook is related to human cells. The study was published online last month and has not yet been published in a scientific journal.
Virus experts are excited about this discovery. Some suspect that these SARS-CoV-2-like viruses may actually infect people from time to time, causing only mild and limited outbreaks. But in the right circumstances, pathogens can lead to a Covid-19-like epidemic, they say.
Experts say the findings also have major implications for the heated debate over the origins of Covid. Some people have speculated that the remarkable ability of SARS-CoV-2 to infect human cells could not have evolved through natural infiltration from an animal. But the new findings seem to indicate otherwise.
“Eso realmente descarta cualquier idea de que este virus tuvo que haber sido inventado, o de alguna manera manipulado en un laboratorio, para ser tan bueno infectando a los humanos”, dijo Michael Worobey, un virólogo de la Universidad de part Arizona que the job.