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Scientists "99 percent" certain SARS originated in Yunnan bats

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It appears the longstanding and deadly mystery surrounding the origin of the SARS virus has been solved. Virologists have been scouring China for clues since the 2002 outbreak, finally stumbling upon a cave in Yunnan where they believe with near certainty the contagion originated. Only a few questions — very major ones — remain unanswered.

Writing in the journal PLoS Pathogens, scientists Shi Zhengli and Cui Jie of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, explained they singled out bats while conducting their SARS origin research. Specifically, they focused on horseshoe bats, which Australian scientists linked to the virus in 2013. Once the two virologists arrived in Yunnan, they spent five years painstakingly observing populations and collecting tissue and fecal samples.

After surveying dozens of locations, their research team identified one cave in particular, where they found "a single population of horseshoe bats [harboring] virus strains with all the genetic building blocks of the one that jumped to humans in 2002," Nature reports. Out of caution, the location of the cave has not been made public, although researchers say it is less than one kilometer from the nearest town.

Shi and Cui now believe the SARS virus originated in this group of bats, then spread to other animals — such as civets — before jumping to humans. And that is where the mystery remains. Professor Tu Changchu, who peer reviewed the SARS bat origin research, told Nature the results are 99 percent conclusive. He stated that if a method of animal-to-human transmission could have been found, "the evidence would be perfect".

But that crucial link has yet to be discovered. When SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — first emerged in 2002, scientists suspected several animals including bats, civets, monkeys and badgers as being potential culprits. Once communicable in people, the virus infected at least 8,700 people worldwide, proving fatal in 775 cases.

One other major question hangs in the air — How did a virus originate in Yunnan, affect no one in the province, and yet still travel all the way to Guangdong province, where the first infections arose? Tu, the virologist peer reviewer commented that this conundrum "has puzzled me a long time". Thanks to the work of Shi, Cui and their research assistants, the world is one step closer to answering the riddle of SARS and similar viruses. But the key mechanism explaining how and when such infections jump to humans remains an open question.

Editor's note: Special thanks to GoKunming user 'jiangwu' for first bringing our attention to this story in the Forums.

Image: Cashmancuneo

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Uh, how do they know there aren't populations of this or other bats in guizhou, guangxi, guangdong, or hunan that harbor a bat precursor of the human sars virus? Plenty of caves and bats in all of those other provinces. Also, 1% uncertainty is a total failure to explain the transmission mechanism of sars from Yunnan bats to humans? That's a very generous 1%.

i guess you didn't read the guardian article

Yes, I did. How does the Guardian article refute my point that other bat populations in other provinces might be viral reservoirs also? And where in the Guardian article did they explain Yunnan bats to human viral mechanism or have any other supporting evidence besides the genetic viral code that bats from that Yunnan cave started the SARS outbreak in humans?

they dont refute, they confirm both your points. tween the grudian and nature, both have already adressed your points. they say they dont know the exact mechanism from bat to civet to humans but virus in bats has all the nescesary ingredients. also say that there will be other bat caves, but this is the first they have found and is a significant breakthrou

For the transmission, it was probably an infected civet that was illegally caught and shipped to Guangdong for sale in the wild food markets.

Does The Guardian give references to professional journals? The popular press is notoriously unreliable when it comes to anything scientific or scholarly.

So Easier, where is the proof, that these bats in Yunnan were the ones that started it? Again, the Guardian article never provides details this. If your only point is that the viral precursor is found in this group of bats, then duh? An Aussie led group of scientists found it in horseshoe bats prior to this Yunnan discovery. I'm just saying until you can detail the transmission mechanism from Yunnan bats to humans, it could be any bat colony in any of those other provinces I mentioned that were the originators.

i don't think you recognize what you read for what it says

When I find out which bat started all this I'm gonna wring its neck.

whereever there is a bat cave, there is a joker ;-)

I thought bats only came out at night.

@Alex, I think you are right.

I hope people don't take this out on the bats, they're clever animals and do a good job of reducing insects, and hope people stop selling them as food they do have a lot of diseases.and they're too small to eat anyway. I don't understand the point of people eating them, such a waste.

ozzie osborne bit the head off a bat. years later he was asked what it was like, he said it was a bit like a crunchie bar

i would have guessed that biting the head off a bat must be a lot like reading fake news about the origins of sars.

@dolphin : What is it that you're calling fake news and why?

rabies is a virus that is transmitted through saliva ie when you get bitten.

here, we are told that the virus is transmitted, but no one knows how. it's far-fetched to assume an animal can infect someone without direct contact and that it passes through several animals before finally getting to humans.

in addition, it seems far-fetched that an animal virus would affect the respiratory system.

and why ONLY these particular bats in one particular cave in yunnan? in the case of rabies, you can get rabies virtually anywhere in the world. but mysteriously, only this one cave has bats that cause sars.

what's next? erectile dysfunction caused by alligators in a remote secret undisclosed pond in the everglades?

the article seems like a complete joke to me. stranger than fiction because it is fiction.

i guess you posted when you came back from the bar. rabies is transmitted by saliva, correct. everything else you write is just wrong. did they say it was not transmitted by direct contact? they say the dont know. animal viruses do affect the resp system, we are animals and we have lots of virus diseases of lungs. aritcile did not say only these bats from this cave, this was pointed out to you before and you just ignore it. then the aligator remark is just reducto ab absurdum. if article seems like joke to you you either cant read, or revelling in your ignorance, or just trolling t

There are several diseases that are passed from one mammal species to another, with biting insects acting as a vector. Insects may also carry diseases from a source and then contaminate foods. Contaminated air and water also play a part. Coughs and sneezes do spread diseases. Fomites also act as a means of transmission.

Dolphin, what's your better explanation of the rise of SARS?

Scientists probably have different ideas about how the virus may have been transmitted and transferred between species. Some may be fairly certain., but the cannot say with absolute certainty, and so they say that they do not know.

Why do they say this? Because even if they are '99 percent certain'some idiots will shout "FAKE NEWS, FAKE NEWS'.

"After surveying dozens of locations, their research team identified one cave in particular, where they found "a single population of horseshoe bats [harboring] virus strains with all the genetic building blocks of the one that jumped to humans in 2002"

Can someone who is honest and trustworthy and who doesn't have any hidden agendas please go out to the cave and get some samples and prove the above statement? Anyone can claim anything about anything. It doesn't make it science or fact. The above statement is no different than someone claiming they saw a UFO. You have to take their word for it on blind faith since you cannot prove or disprove it.

99% could be another lie. So that means nothing.

You can doubt virtually any scientific findings, but unless you are a relevant scientist yourself you are going to have to trust somebody who is. Why do you distrust these scientists? If there's a good reason to mistrust them, what is it?

why are you acting like an ambassador to these scientists? you own stocks in sars vaccines?

there are many examples of fake science with hidden agendas. that's good enough reason for me to mistrust them.

although my approach is flawed because it can lead to excessive mistrust when it is not warranted, surely you can understand that your approach "unless you are a scientist" is equally flawed as conning someone with that mindset is as easy as stealing candy from a baby.

what would king canute say today? global warming is fake news. i believe that about 99% of science is correct fact, only about 1% is pseudo science.people how believe otherwise have their head where the sun dont shine

@dolphin: No ambassador, no stock in SARs vaccine. How do you choose which scientists to believe/disbelieve? Yea, science is never final truth, but it's usually the best approximation we've got, unless we have reason to doubt particular research or reports. So tell us why you doubt this one.

sceince isnt always the final truth, but never say never. there is a difference between theory of x and law of x. an apple will always fall from a tree, water always runs downhill,, fact, newtons law. dont become a scienctific proof appologist.

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