Researchers from the Smithsonian’s Global Health Program discovered six new types of coronavirus in bats, the same family of viruses as the one that causes COVID-2019, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
The research was conducted on 759 samples as well as tests conducted on over 460 bats from at least 11 different species found in Myanmar. Forty-eight of the samples contained coronaviruses, six of which were previously undiscovered.
According to the research, which was published in the academic journal PLOS ONE, the new viruses do not seem to be harmful to humans, and while they are part of the same family as the novel coronavirus, they do not appear to be closely related to COVID-2019.
However, the study is still relevant as the world battles the global coronavirus pandemic, which has infected over a million people across the world and killed hundreds of thousands of victims.
“The goal is to prevent the virus from getting into the humans in the first place,” said Marc Valitutto, lead author of the study and a former wildlife veterinarian with the Global Health Program, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
“This is what’s required if you want to prevent 90,000 deaths, which is what we’re seeing today.”
“It really makes sense to go upstream and try and identify and prevent some of this first,” said Suzan Murry, the study’s co-author and a zoo veterinarian and director of the Global Health Program.
“We need to be building the wildlife resources and the capacity to do wildlife testing and wildlife surveillance ahead of the curve.”
Bats are a major source of zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Despite hosting a wide variety of different pathogens, bats possess very strong immune systems, which allows them to carry diseases without being infected themselves. As they also are known for traveling great distances, they are capable of spreading a wide variety of different viruses. This includes coronaviruses such as COVID-2019, SARS and MERS, as well as filoviruses like Ebola.
While it is unclear how the disease spreads from bats to humans, the study implies that bat droppings may be a major source of the disease.
The discovery of new coronaviruses in bats isn’t surprising, as scientists believe that the vast majority of the estimated thousands of different coronaviruses that bats carry have yet to be discovered.