October 14, 2013
1 min read

Genome studies link MERS origin to bats

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The Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, coronavirus appears to have originated in bats, according to research published in Virology Journal.

As of Oct. 14, there have been 138 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS and 60 deaths, according to WHO. Most cases have been in Saudi Arabia.

Previous research suggested that MERS uses the DPP-4 receptor to enter the cell. Researchers from Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity at the University of Sydney in Australia analyzed seven bat genomes to determine the sequence of the DPP4 gene. They compared these findings with those from other mammalian species.

They found three residues in bat DPP-4 receptors that directly interact with the viral surface glycoprotein. The mutations in the bat genes also occurred at a faster rate, which suggests that the virus existed in bats for a long period and has evolved before it began to infect humans. 

“It is possible that the adaptive evolution present on the bat DPP-4 was due to viruses other than MERS [coronaviruses], and which will need to be better assessed when a larger number of viruses are available for analysis,” the researchers wrote. “Overall, our study provides evidence that a long-term evolutionary arms race likely occurred between MERS-related [coronaviruses] and bats.”

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.