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Pangolins are not the source of the COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers have determined that the new coronavirus did not spread to humans from pangolins. Although the scaly anteaters are not responsible for SARS-CoV-2, the experts said it is possible that they are hosts of other unknown coronaviruses.

Pangolins are natural hosts of coronaviruses. According to the study authors, the large-scale surveillance of coronaviruses in pangolins could improve our understanding of the spectrum of coronaviruses circulating in the wild, and could help prevent and control emerging infectious diseases.

The COVID-19 outbreak was first discovered last year in Wuhan, China. Recent studies have shown that the virus that causes COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), may have originated in bats.

Experts believe that there was likely an intermediate host between bats and humans, but the identity of this host remains a mystery. 

To effectively control the disease, it is critical to identify the animal origin of SARS-CoV-2. A research team led by Jinping Chen of the Guangdong Institute of Applied Biological Resources set out to determine whether the virus jumped to humans from pangolins.

The experts sequenced the entire genome of a coronavirus identified in two groups of sick Malayan pangolins. The results suggest that the pangolin coronavirus is genetically related to SARS-CoV-2 and to certain bat coronaviruses, but is not the virus that caused the pandemic. 

According to the study authors, wildlife conservation and limited exposure to wildlife will be important to minimize the risk that coronaviruses will spill over from wild animals to humans.

“Pangolins could be natural hosts of beta-coronaviruses with an unknown potential to infect humans,” said the researchers. “However, our study does not support that SARS-CoV-2 evolved directly from the pangolin-CoV.”

The study is published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff


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