Corona Viruses and Bats Have Been Evolving Together for Millions of Years

Different groups of bats have their own unique strains of corona virus. Bats do a lot of good for the world--they pollinate plants, they eat disease-carrying insects, and they help disperse seeds that help with the regeneration of tropical forest trees. Bats and a range of other mammal groups are also natural carriers of corona viruses. To better understand this very diverse family of viruses, which includes the specific corona virus behind COVID-19, scientists compared the different kinds of corona viruses living in 36 bat species from the western Indian Ocean and nearby areas of Africa. They found that different groups of bats at the genus, and in some cases family, level had their own unique strains of corona virus, revealing that bats and corona viruses have been evolving together for millions of years. "We found that there's a deep evolutionary history between bats and corona viruses," says Steve Goodman, PhD, MacArthur Field Biologist at Chicago's Field Museum and an author of a paper just published in Scientific Reports detailing the discovery. "Developing a better understanding of how corona viruses evolved can help us build public health programs in the future." The study was led by Université de La Réunion scientists Léa Joffrin, PhD, and Camille Lebarbenchon, PhD, who conducted the genetic analyses in the laboratory of "Processus Infectieux en Milieu Insulaire Tropical (PIMIT)" on Réunion Island, focusing on emerging infectious diseases on islands in the western Indian Ocean. The open-access Scientific Reports article was published online on April 23, 2020, and is titled “Bat Coronavirus Phylogeography in the Western Indian Ocean.” Many people use "corona virus" as a synonym for "COVID-19," the kind of corona virus causing the current pandemic.
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