Is THIS how the Covid pandemic began after all? Study finds strain of virus in PANGOLINS was nearly identical to the strain in humans
- Genetic makeup of coronavirus in pangolins was 90% identical to human strain
- Pangolins have long been suspected to be source of Covid but research is mixed
- READ MORE: Pangolins blamed for transmitting Covid may be IMMUNE to it
As infectious disease experts continue to probe the true origin of the Covid pandemic, new research is making a case for pangolins as the middlemen between the original animal host and humans.
The latest report on possible Covid origins was published this week in Nature and led by virus expert Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina.
The research team found the strain of coronavirus harbored in the rare animal was nearly identical to the one that has pummeled humans, leading them to theorize that the first cases of coronavirus likely jumped from pangolins to immunocompromised people.
This gave the novel virus ample opportunity to mutate and replicate until it reached its full pandemic potential.
Pangolins have long been suspected to have been the original go-between, but there is another camp of scientists who insist the pandemic was rooted in a leak from the Chinese Wuhan Institute of Virology, a theory that some US intelligence agencies support.
The coronavirus strain harbored in pangolins — the animals first blamed for transmitting coronavirus from bats to humans — was found to be nearly identical to the genetic makeup of the strain that infects people, suggesting it passed on a mutated version to infect people
While China has tried to insist the virus originated elsewhere, academics, politicians and the media have begun to contemplate the possibility it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology – raising suspicions Chinese officials hid evidence of the early spread
Scientists studying the origins of Covid-19, an ongoing effort that began in the early days of the pandemic, set out to trace the genetic lineage of the virus.
Genome sequencing, a process of determining the genetic coding of a virus to understand how it works, revealed a coronavirus in pangolins shared more than 90 percent of the same qualities with the strain that infects people.
The coronavirus experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt University, Duke University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Tokyo called out in their study that multiple coronaviruses have emerged from animals in the 21st century and ‘SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes Covid-19] mostly probably originated from strains that circulated in bats or other mammals.’
The team tested the strain in pangolins in the animals’ nose cells and found it was adept at multiplying, suggesting it was highly adaptable to strike humans.
Based on the findings that the animal’s strain binded to more receptors, had airborne transmission and had pronounced growth in their nasal cells, the researchers said they were able to ‘suggest that individual pangolins, or perhaps some other rare wildlife species, was productively infected and served as a nearly untraceable pass-through species that transmitted virus to humans.’
China cracks down on trading of coronavirus-linked pangolins
China has stepped up the protection efforts of pangolins – the world’s most trafficked mammal – as the country continues to clamp down on the wild animal trade amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pangolins are rare – scientists are not even sure how many are left in the wild.
They’re also an elusive species that scientists have a hard time finding in the wild, though they are native to Africa and Asia. Yet they are the most trafficked species in the world, especially within Asia, because their meat is considered a delicacy.
Previous investigations into an origin animal host have produced mixed results.
In early 2020, researchers at the South China Agricultural University put forth the theory that pangolins served as an ‘intermediate host’ based on genetic sequencing, but that the virus did not originate in the animal.
After testing more than 1,000 samples from wild animals, scientists from the university found the genome sequences of viruses found on pangolins to be 99 percent identical to those on coronavirus patients.
On the other hand, an Oxford University study in 2021 reported ‘no evidence’ that a single bat or pangolin was kept at China’s wet markets, leading researchers there to conclude these species – frequently blamed for Covid-19 – ‘were not the likely spillover host at the source of the coronavirus’.
This latest theory pointing to pangolins as animal intermediaries, with bats as the original hosts, contradicts arguments made primarily by Republican lawmakers that the virus likely leaked from a lab inside the Wuhan Institute of Technology.
The WIV specializes in the study of coronaviruses, particularly those that originate in bats.
Still, the authors insisted, ‘Although speculative, a variety of data support this hypothesis’ that the virus mutated in pangolins to become infectious among humans.’
Their findings were published Monday the journal Nature Microbiology.
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