Ancestors of COVID-19 virus have circulated in bats for decades, researchers say

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Close relatives of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been circulating unnoticed in bats for decades, a study published in Nature Microbiology found.

An international team of researchers studied the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 by tracing its recombination history. Viral recombination occurs when viruses with two different parent strains infect the same host and interact to make a new virus descendent with genes from both parents.

Researchers identified horseshoe bats in China as the most plausible origin for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The current virus strain likely diverged from other bat viruses as early as 1948, researchers said.

"The existing diversity and dynamic process of recombination amongst lineages in the bat reservoir demonstrate how difficult it will be to identify viruses with potential to cause major human outbreaks before they emerge," the researchers wrote.

They highlighted the importance of having a global network of real-time human disease surveillance systems to identify and classify viruses that jump to humans in real time. 

To view the full study, click here.

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