Research work undertaken by a team of scientists from different universities, was able to trace the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on a genetic analysis of the viruses, they arrived at a conclusion that the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 infectious disease was a hybrid of bat and pangolin viruses.

Scientist and researchers from the New York University, the Duke University, the University of Texas at El Paso and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, found out that the coronavirus strain that infects bats had exchanged genes with the coronavirus strain that infects pangolin. The merger produced SARS-CoV-2, a hybrid virus that made direct infections possible on humans.

What Makes the SARS-CoV-2 Virus Different from Earlier Coronaviruses

Where the first SARS virus shifted from bats to civets, and the MERS were transmissions between bats and dromedary camels, the bat-pangolin SARS-CoV-2 virus, developed a genetic material that enabled the strain to directly infect humans.

The explanation was provided by Feng Gao, M.D. a professor of Medicine at Duke University’s Division of Infectious Diseases and School of Medicine; being the author of the study published online in the Science Advances journal last May 29, 2020. .

The Study Demonstrates Proof of Pangolin Virus’ Role in the Emergence of a New Coronavirus


According to Dr. Gao, a genetic analysis of the novel coronavirus confirmed that the pangolin coronavirus was the closest relative to the virus! but different from the typical pangolin virus strain that does not cause direct infection to humans.

However, Dr. Gao said they found a receptor-binding site, which is part of the spike protein that enables the novel coronavirus to bind to the cell membrane. The binding site made it possible for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to attach to a cell surface protein found abundant in the cells of human respiratory, intestinal epithelia and kidney organs.

He added that on its own, Pangolin coronavirus cannot efficiently infect humans. Yet its bat coronavirus ancestor allowed it to create a different binding site.

Elena Giorgi, co-lead author and staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory said that others have already examined the sequences of the Pangolin coronavirus before. Still, half of the scientific community still had reservations about the role it played in the development of the novel coronavirus

Ms. Giorgi said

“In our study, we showed proof that there was indeed a rich history in the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We were able to demonstrate that the viruses evolved through the reshuffling of genetic material between the coronaviruses of bats and pangolins, before the novel coronavirus acquired the ability to jump to humans and infect human cells.”