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Study finds pangolins carry related strains of virus

Researchers have identified SARS-CoV2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins seized in anti-smuggling operations in southern China.
Researchers have identified SARS-CoV2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins seized in anti-smuggling operations in southern China.

The results of a new study show that pangolins, the most trafficked mammal in the world, carry coronaviruses closely linked to the one now infecting thousands around the world.

The study, published in the international journal Nature on Thursday, appears to corroborate earlier suggestions that the virus jumped from pangolins to humans.

A team led by Tommy Tsan-Yuk Lam, of the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, uncovered the link.

Researchers said the outbreak that had infected more than 500,000 people around the world had been “tentatively associated” with a seafood market in Wuhan, China, where wild animal sales were rife.  

“Although bats are likely reservoir hosts for SARS-CoV-2 (new coronavirus), the identity of any intermediate host that might have facilitated transfer to humans has been unknown,” they said.

However, through their research they have now identified SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins seized in anti-smuggling operations in southern China.

“Metagenomic sequencing identified pangolin-associated coronaviruses that belong to two sub-lineages of SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses, including one that exhibits strong similarity to SARS-CoV-2 in the receptor-binding domain,” researches advised.

“The discovery of multiple lineages of pangolin coronavirus and their similarity to SARS-CoV-2 suggests that pangolins should be considered as possible hosts in the emergence of novel coronaviruses and should be removed from wet markets.”

Earlier this month, scientists in the US, UK and Australia said Covid-19 differed substantially from other coronaviruses and mostly resembled related viruses found in bats and pangolins.

The researchers, led by Kristian Andersen from the immunology and microbiology department at the Scripps Research Institute in California, referred to the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2.

“By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes,” said Andersen.

Statistics on environmental crime released to parliament in September last year showed that pangolin poaching in SA had shot up by 75% in the space of a year.

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world — poachers kill as many as 2.7 million African pangolins every year.

“Although pangolins are a protected species in China, there is a thriving black market for pangolin meat and especially for scales, which account for 20% of body weight.” — Additional reporting by TimesLIVE

 

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