Two lab freezers in Asia have yielded surprising discoveries. Researchers have told Nature they have found a coronavirus that is closely related to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the pandemic, in horseshoe bats stored in a freezer in Cambodia. Meanwhile, a team in Japan has reported the discovery of another closely related coronavirus — also found in frozen bat droppings.
The viruses are the first known relatives of SARS-CoV-2 to be found outside China, which supports the World Health Organization’s search across Asia for the pandemic’s animal origin. Strong evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 originated in horseshoe bats, but whether it passed directly from bats to people, or through an intermediate host, remains a mystery.
The virus in Cambodia was found in two Shamel’s horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus shameli) captured in the country’s north in 2010. The virus’s genome has not yet been fully sequenced — nor its discovery published — making its full significance to the pandemic hard to ascertain.