Wuhan coronavirus origin traced to snakes in China

Wuhan coronavirus appears to be a virus that formed from a combination of a coronavirus found in bats and another coronavirus of unknown origin

Now that Whuan coronavirus origin was located to an animal market that has since been closed, scientists have zeroed in on the origin of the new coronovirus to snakes, which could have transmitted the disease to human in the market.

As understanding the origin of a possible virus outbreak is key to finding a possible panacea, the new study should provide important insights on the potential origins of the most recent outbreak of viral pneumonia in China, which started in the middle of December and now is spreading to Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Japan and reached even the US capital Washington DC.

The study findings, published in the Journal of Medical Virology, reveal that patients who became infected with the virus -- which is a type of virus called a coronavirus and was named 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization -- were exposed to wildlife animals at a wholesale market in Wuhan. Apart from snakes, many varieties of seafood, poultry, bats, and other farm animals were sold there.

WHO's statement on coronavirus

By conducting a detailed genetic analysis of the virus and comparing it with available genetic data on viruses from different geographic locations and host species, the investigators concluded that the 2019-nCoV appears to be a virus that formed from a combination of a coronavirus found in bats and another coronavirus of unknown origin.

The new resulting virus developed a mix or "recombination" of a viral protein that recognizes and binds to receptors on host cells, said researchers, pointing out that such recognition allows viruses to enter host cells, before spreading infection and disease.

2019-nCoV-induced pneumonia

The team also found another evidence that the 2019-nCoV likely resided in snakes before it was able to transmit itself to humans. Recombination within the viral receptor-binding protein may have allowed for cross-species transmission from snake to humans, they noted.

"Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV," the authors wrote in their paper. "New information obtained from our evolutionary analysis is highly significant for effective control of the outbreak caused by the 2019-nCoV-induced pneumonia."