While the World Health Organization’s (WHO) expert team is in Wuhan to investigate how the coronavirus jumped to humans from animals, China’s “Bat Woman” Shi Zhengli said in an article that mink could be a possible host of the origin of the novel coronavirus and called on the world to investigate samples from more susceptible animals to determine when the virus moved to humans. Mink is a carnivorous mammal that looks similar to a squirrel.
Shi, a Chinese virologist from the Wuhan Institute of Virology dubbed as China’s “Bat Woman” due to her years of research and achievements in research with bats and viruses, and Zhou Peng, a scientist also from the institute, jointly published an article, titled “SARS-CoV-2 spillover events,” on Science Magazine recently, which said that after the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, several groups reported SARS-related coronavirus in horseshoe bats in China and in pangolins smuggled from South Asian countries.
Chinese virologists said Shi’s article proves that the mystery of the virus origin needs investigations in many countries and research on more animal species, and WHO’s investigation in Wuhan, although unlikely to find the answer of the origin, will lay a good foundation for further investigations in more countries. However, Chinese experts also stressed that Shi’s article did not fix the direct host of the virus on mink, and scientists in different fields need to deepen their genome sequence research on mink to verify the possibility.
But according to genome sequence comparison, none are directly the source of SARS-CoV-2, the agent of Covid-19. In the meantime, Covid-19 infections in mink farms have been reported in eight countries, including the Netherlands, France, Italy and the US, according to the WHO. There is limited evidence of animal-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 except for mink, the study said. Evolutionary analyses of viral genomes from bats and pangolins indicate that further adaption, either in animal hosts or in humans, occurred before the virus caused the Covid-19 pandemic, the study said.
Therefore, an animal species that has a high population density, for example, mink, would be a possible host of the origin of SARS-CoV-2. The current evidence also questioned the animal origin of the virus in the seafood market in Wuhan, as we have found the virus on the surface of imported food packages, and the coronavirus antibodies were found in human serum samples taken outside China before the Covid-19 outbreak was detected in Wuhan, which suggested that the virus had existed for some time before Wuhan discovered its first case, the study said. Authors of the study called on retrospective investigations of pre-outbreak samples from mink and other susceptible animals as well as humans to identify the direct origin of the virus, and to determine when the virus moved to humans.
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