Scientist Ben Hu, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his colleagues, spent five years studying the SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), found in multiple species of bats after the SARS pandemic in 2002. The pandemic broke out in southern China, killing hundreds of people in many countries. The outback was traced back to horseshoe bats that were infected by the SARS virus. The scientists hypothesized that the bats then directly spread the disease to humans, or it was indirectly transmitted to humans by animals that they purchased at markets. So, Ben Hu and his team began studying all of the species of horseshoe bats that live in a single cave in Yunnan Province, China. The researchers discovered that there were 11 new strains of the SARS virus, and sequenced their full genomes to uncover their evolutionary relationships.
Genomic analysis revealed that the 11 newly identified bat strains, as well as several strains identified in a previous study of the same bat cave, contained all the essential genetic building blocks of the human SARS coronavirus. Essentially, they discovered that the viruses could be transmitted to humans. In some of the strains, portions of the S gene showed high genetic similarity to the same regions found in the SARS coronavirus genome. This analysis led the researchers to believe that recombination between SARS strains that are non-transferable to humans led to a strain that can be directly transmitted to humans, similar to the SARS coronavirus. Their researchers also led them to find that a few of the new strains can enter human cells via the same cellular receptor employed by SARS coronavirus. Thus, some of the bats is the cave have SARS strains that can be directly transmitted to humans.
I think that this research is very important to people living in areas around China because studying the SARS virus is a crucial first step to creating a vaccine or curing the disease in humans. Keeping an eye on the cave with many new strains of the SARS virus is also very important because researches need to know if any new species of horseshoe bats are introduced to the population. In addition, the scientists need to know if any of the bats regularly leave the cave in order to figure out if the bats could potentially be endangering humans. It is very interesting that recombination led to new strains of the SARS virus, but is potentially deadly to the people of China and surrounding areas.
More information on the SARS Virus