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  1. Coronaviruses are zoonotic in origin. Both SARS and MERS are classified as zoonotic viral diseases, meaning the first patients who were infected acquired these viruses directly from animals. This was possible because while in the animal host, the virus had acquired a series of genetic mutations that allowed it to infect and multiply inside humans. Snakes have been suggested as a host or intermediate host.

    In the case of this 2019 Wuhan variant (2019-nCoV) coronavirus outbreak, reports state that most of the first group of patients hospitalized were workers or customers at a local seafood wholesale market which also sold processed meats and live consumable animals including poultry, donkeys, sheep, pigs, camels, foxes, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs and reptiles. However, since no one has ever reported finding a coronavirus infecting aquatic animals, it is plausible that the coronavirus may have originated from other animals sold in that market.

    The hypothesis that the 2019-nCoV jumped from an animal at the market is strongly supported by a new publication [1] in the Journal of Medical Virology. The scientists conducted an analysis and compared the genetic sequences of 2019-nCoV and all other known coronaviruses.

    The study of the genetic code of 2019-nCoV reveals that the new virus is most closely related to two bat SARS-like coronavirus samples from China, initially suggesting that, like SARS and MERS, the bat might also be the origin of 2019-nCoV. The authors further found that the viral RNA coding sequence of 2019-nCoV spike protein, which forms the “crown” of the virus particle that recognizes the receptor on a host cell, indicates that the bat virus might have mutated before infecting people. [1]

    But when the researchers performed a more detailed bioinformatics analysis of the sequence of 2019-nCoV, it suggests that this coronavirus might come from snakes.

    The Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, where the coronavirus outbreak is believed to have started, is now closed, making it difficult for greater detailed sampling and study. Also, these reptile –> bat –> human transfers are NOT definite nor independently verified. Searching for the 2019-nCoV sequence in snakes would be the first thing to do. However, since the outbreak, the seafood market has been disinfected and shut down, which makes it challenging to trace the new virus’ source animal.

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