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The origin of the coronavirus: why do we still not know where it came from?

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Coronavirus has been with us for two and a half years, but its origin is still unknown. Most researchers believe that the virus evolved naturally, traveling from one host to another over the years. Bats are supposedly the reservoir of infection – viruses actively multiply in their bodies, but the bats themselves do not get sick (they only transmit the infection to other animals, which constantly happens in nature). Another theory of the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is a leak from a laboratory in Wuhan, which is located near the market where the infection was first discovered. In the scientific community, the version of the escaped virus is not popular, but it is certainly worth studying in more detail. As the authors of a new report published in The Lancet write, biolaboratory studies worldwide need to be monitored to avoid potential leaks. And this is really important, because sooner or later we will encounter new viruses and bacteria, and, as they say, it is better to know the enemy in person.

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Viruses, parasites and their hosts

The fact that bats spread viral diseases has long been known. These small animals have already “gave” the world rabies, Ebola and Margburg fever, so the increased interest in them is absolutely justified. In addition, most known diseases are transmitted to humans from wild animals. So, close relatives of covid viruses SARS and MERS entered the human population with the help of intermediate hosts.

Intermediate host researchers call the organism that contains the virus. Most parasites known to science live by this principle. So, fungi of the genus Cordyceps control the behavior of insects to get to birds (their natural hosts), and the microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii changes the reaction of rats to the smell of cat urine – instead of being scared and running away, infected rodents go straight to the paws of a predator.

The coronavirus may have escaped from the lab.

Among the reasons for the spread of zoonoses, scientists identify rapid climate change and urbanization – deforestation and the expansion of agricultural land robs animals of their natural habitat, forcing them to come into contact with people more often. And bats are no exception.

Natural origin of COVID-19

Despite the confidence of many researchers in the natural origin of the coronavirus (in particular from bats), not everyone agrees with them. In early September, Israeli scientists reported that they found no evidence to support the theory of the natural origin of COVID-19 in bats (even though the outbreaks of SARS and MERS actually occurred due to bats).

This study led us to doubt that bats are the source of the COVID-19 outbreak. The presence of antibodies to COVID-19 in their body does not mean that the pandemic started because of them, said lead author Dr. Maria Weinberg from the University of Tel Aviv.

The authors of a new report on the origin of the coronavirus agree with the opinion of Israeli scientists: the commission of the medical journal The Lancet urges researchers to pay attention again to the theory of “escape” from the laboratory.

The origin of COVID-19 is still unknown. Researchers suggest considering all options

The fact is that if the virus first appeared in the wild, it really could be studied in Wuhan. Recall that experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived in Chinese Wuhan in early 2021, but failed to establish the origin of the virus, for which the mission was criticized by the media.

Laboratory origin of COVID-19

So, is there any evidence of laboratory origin of the coronavirus? It is difficult to say, because both China and the United States categorically reject all accusations against them, blaming each other for the pandemic. This is hardly surprising – in a recently published report on the origins of COVID-19, researchers reported the need to monitor laboratory facilities not only in Wuhan and the United States, but throughout the world.

The National Institutes of Health of both countries are “resisting disclosure of details” of research into viruses associated with SARS-CoV-2. The World Health Organization (WHO), governments and the global scientific community must consider all possible origins of COVID-19, the authors of the report write .

The new coronavirus is still a mystery to scientists

Experts also point to the lack of a system for global monitoring and regulation of biolaboratory studies of viral diseases. And if we remain inactive in the world, there will be even more diverse conspiracy theories. In addition, fake news and pseudoscience are spreading in social networks at a breakneck pace, which, by the way, we have already talked about. (As for the political situation in the world, it is still tense – countries continue to accuse each other of all mortal sins).

Mutations instead of origin

While passions boil among scientists and politicians about the origin of the new coronavirus, the disease claims thousands of lives every day around the world and is not going to recede. Recently, a study was published on the bioRxiv preprint server, the results of which predict future outbreaks of COVID-19 as a result of the ongoing mutations of the pathogen. The fact is that viruses with airborne transmission tend to change rapidly, and the rate of transmission of infection is constantly increasing.

Tracking changes in viral proteins and observing different mutations, scientists are concerned about their rate and number. The results of the work showed that, along with the spike protein, the envelope and membrane proteins of SARS-CoV-2 have undergone major changes. This behavior of the pathogen can be explained by viral adaptation, which occurs, among other things, due to vaccination.

Most scientists believe that the new coronavirus appeared naturally

Either way, the pandemic is unlikely to end in the foreseeable future. Climate change is exacerbating the situation, bringing back long-forgotten diseases including cholera, polio, measles and even a new form of smallpox (monkeypox). So it remains for you and me to observe what is happening, taking the necessary precautions, including vaccination against COVID-19 (humanity has not yet come up with a better way to fight infections). Be healthy!

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