We may never know the precise origin of COVID-19—but we have to try to find out

July 31, 2020
It’s the end of the week, and the month. Today, we look at a few new research studies that tell us more about the origin of COVID-19 and what we need to do to prevent future pandemics, in 660 words, around 3 minutes, 15 seconds. By the way, BIO IMPACT award…
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It’s the end of the week, and the month. Today, we look at a few new research studies that tell us more about the origin of COVID-19 and what we need to do to prevent future pandemics, in 660 words, around 3 minutes, 15 seconds.

By the way, BIO IMPACT award nominations are now open! Submit your nomination for the George Washington Carver Award and the Rosalind Franklin Award.

We may never know the precise origin of COVID-19—but we have to try to find out

Scientists around the world agree that SARS-CoV-2 most likely originated in bats in nature—and not in a lab. But while we may never know for sure how it got from that bat to humans around the globe, it’s important we continue to try to find out.

New research says one of the closest-known ancestors of SARS-CoV-2 emerged in bats 40-70 years ago, reports the BBC. “It has been poised for human crossover for some time.”

This tracks with the scientific consensus “that it originated in bats and jumped to humans either directly or, more likely, via an intermediate host,” as Science Mag puts it

The new findings are more evidence the virus did not originate or escape from a lab. “U.S. President Trump’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from our institute totally contradicts the facts,” wrote Shi Zhengli, virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which has been falsely accused of leaking the virus. “It jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal life.”

But the Trump administration cut funding for bat virus research anyway, as reported in April.

Why it matters: “We really do need to understand where or how the virus has crossed into the human population. If we now believe there's this generalist virus circulating in bats, we need to get better at monitoring that,” said the University of Reading’s Mark Pagel, who worked on the new research. “This is significant in pointing to the scale and nature of the problems that zoonotic transmission presents to humans—there may be numerous and as yet undetected viruses capable of infecting humans that reside in animal hosts.”

So, what do we do now? We need to keep exploring the links between human and animal health so we can better understand this virus—and perhaps more importantly, prepare for the next one, which may be worse.

We can also step up conservation efforts. Between 60 and 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans (not only COVID-19) have animal origins, and new research finds programs to curb wildlife trafficking and wild meat trade, conserve tropical forests, and create a library of viral genetics could help, reports Futurity

And implementing these programs would cost a whole lot less than the amount we’re expected to lose during the COVID-19 pandemic—as little as 2% of the $10 to $20 trillion estimated eventual cost.

What they’re saying: “Surprise, surprise, wild animals can harbor a lot of nasty things,” said Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke University. “The good news is, by investing between $22 and $31 billion dollars a year in programs to monitor and police the wildlife trade and curb tropical deforestation, we could stop future pandemics before they start and substantially reduce the odds of having something like COVID-19 happen again.”

Learn more about how One Health policies can stop future pandemics.

 

More News: 

Biopharma Dive: J&J, beginning first human trial, aims for a 1-shot coronavirus vaccine
“Two other early trials should soon start, and assuming the vaccine proves safe in those tests, a large-scale efficacy study would follow in September.” 

CSL: At White House roundtable, Paul Perreault urges people to donate plasma in the fight against COVID-19
“Representing the plasma industry, Perreault pointed to the unprecedented CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance industry collaboration which was co-founded by CSL Behring and Takeda this year to accelerate the development of a plasma-derived hyperimmune globulin therapy for COVID-19.” 

The Wall Street Journal: FDA nears decision authorizing COVID-19 treatment with convalescent plasma
“The authorization could come as early as next week.”

 
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President Trump’s Friday: Meeting with the National Association of Police Organizations, then heading to Florida to meet with sheriffs, discuss storm preparedness, and have dinner with supporters.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: Before the week comes to a close, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is holding a hearing, The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus, featuring NIAID’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC’s Dr. Robert Redfield, and HHS’s Admiral Brett Giroir.

 
 
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