Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-like virus in Chinese horseshoe bats
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Although the finding of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in caged palm civets from live animal markets in China has provided evidence for interspecies transmission in the genesis of the SARS epidemic, subsequent studies suggested that the civet may have served only as an amplification host for SARS-CoV. In a surveillance study for CoV in noncaged animals from the wild areas of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, we identified a CoV closely related to SARS-CoV (bat-SARS-CoV) from 23 (39%) of 59 anal swabs of wild Chinese horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus sinicus) by using RT-PCR. Sequencing and analysis of three bat-SARS-CoV genomes from samples collected at different dates showed that bat-SARS-CoV is closely related to SARS-CoV from humans and civets. Phylogenetic analysis showed that bat-SARS-CoV formed a distinct cluster with SARS-CoV as group 2b CoV, distantly related to known group 2 CoV. Most differences between the bat-SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV genomes were observed in the spike genes, ORF 3 and ORF 8, which are the regions where most variations also were observed between human and civet SARS-CoV genomes. In addition, the presence of a 29-bp insertion in ORF 8 of bat-SARS-CoV genome, not in most human SARS-CoV genomes, suggests that it has a common ancestor with civet SARS-CoV. Antibody against recombinant bat-SARS-CoV nucleocapsid protein was detected in 84% of Chinese horseshoe bats by using an enzyme immunoassay. Neutralizing antibody to human SARS-CoV also was detected in bats with lower viral loads. Precautions should be exercised in the handling of these animals.Coronaviruses (CoV) are found in a wide variety of animals in which they can cause respiratory, enteric, hepatic, and neurological diseases of varying severity. As a result of the unique mechanism of viral replication, CoV have a high frequency of recombination (1). Their tendency for recombination and high mutation rates may allow them to adapt to new hosts and ecological niches. Among CoV that infect humans, including