DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA — SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could be a hybrid that descended from different clades of bat and pangolin viruses, according to new research in Science Advances.
Writing in a news release, the team says the bat virus RaTG13 is the closest genetic relative to SARS-CoV-2, with a 96.3 percent RNA similarity.
However, the bat virus does not have the spike protein parts used by SARS-CoV-2 for infecting humans.
Yet another close relative, a clade of SARS-like pangolin virus from China, has receptor-binding domains that closely match the corresponding parts of the novel coronavirus.
The bat and pangolin viruses likely recombined to form SARS-CoV-2.
Recombining may occur when two similar viruses infect the same cell.
When this happens, molecules that made up the distinct viruses are reshuffled into a new pathogen.