COVID-19 has claimed more than 33K lives and over 7 lakh people are still waiting for their fate to be decided as they have been tested positive. India has made enormous progress as a lab in Pune has developed a testing kit for coronavirus which will be made easily available to the masses soon.
However, scientists are still unsure about the source of this deadly virus and the link between humans and their origin. Few animals are suspected to be the source, like bats and snakes but the Pokémon-like animal, pangolin probably holds the answer.
What Is A Pangolin?
Pangolins are scaly mammals, solitary in nature and are mostly nocturnal. Similar to armadillos, pangolins can roll themselves up in a ball-like structure to protect themselves, if touched. They use their sharp tail containing spikes as a weapon. Another name for pangolins is ‘scaly anteaters’.
The fact that all the eight species of pangolins are ‘critically endangered’ did not stop the wild wet markets of China from selling them. The illegal wildlife trade had been shut down a few weeks ago due to the pandemic that has caused immense terror, but it hasn’t been long and the market has already been reopened.
Pangolin meat is dark, with a sticky, stringy texture, therefore, it is prized in many parts of the world. Some claim its scales, made of keratin like human fingernails and rhinoceros horns, can heal a range of ailments ranging from infertility to arthritis. These pangolins are most sought-after mammals for use in traditional medicine and folk remedies even though there is no scientific evidence showing that pangolin scales are effective as a treatment.
Bats Or Pangolins?
Bats are already notorious for being the animal reservoir behind the 2003 SARS-CoV outbreak in which 8,000 people were infected and 774 died which makes them an important aspect of research during the coronavirus outbreak. A study shows that SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the group of Betacoronaviruses and that it is very close to SARS-CoV, which appeared in 2003.
Therefore, reports claimed that bats of the genus Rhinolophus are the original source of the COVID-19 virus but the jump from bats to humans was still a mystery. Even snakes were believed to be the culprit of transferring the virus until recent studies showed that the virus has a protein structure and genome, which effectively rules out snakes.
The missing link from bats to humans was unknown until February 7, 2020 when the recent analysis suggested pangolins as the link in the transmission of 2019-nCoV. This means pangolins could be an intermediate host but nothing is confirmed, yet.
Another study led by the South China Agricultural University analyzed more than 1,000 samples from wild animals and found the genome sequences of viruses in pangolins to be 99% identical in a specific region, the one that allows the virus to enter human cells to infect them. Until then, the closest genetic similarity was found in a coronavirus isolated from bats which was not capable of entering the human cells.
In short, the data suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 is the result of a recombination between two different viruses. During SARS CoV outbreak, the recombination mechanism had already been discussed to explain its origin.
Recombination allows the pre-existing virus to infect a new host species. However, for a recombination to occur, the two discrete viruses must have infected the same organism simultaneously.
We are yet to discover the species in which the recombination occurred and the suitable conditions in which it took place.
Although identifying the host of COVID-19 will not help in eradicating the current outbreak of the virus, it will be beneficial in containing any future flare-ups. At this moment, scientists are unsure and any claims made are based on a university press release.
Do not jump to conclusions until a study is published or reviewed!
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