An international team of scientists, during the search for an origin of Coronavirus, have found 24 previously unknown bat coronaviruses.
Out of 24, 4 of the bat coronaviruses that are related to the strain that causes COVID-19 have been found within a 4 km radius in Southwestern China.
One virus was carrying a genomic backbone which is arguably the closest to SARS-CoV-2 identified to date, but none appeared to be a direct ancestor of the COVID-19 which was responsible for the pandemic.
China has continued to fund numerous research teams which have been collecting and studying the bat viruses across the country.
Among the funded teams is the one led by Professor Shi Weifong of Shandong First Medical University responsible for the latest finding.
Bat-hunting scientists, particularly in China, have come under fire since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, which is believed to have emerged from the animals.
RpYN06, the closest matching virus had a 94.5 % similarity to SARS-CoV-2 across the whole genome.
It is slightly lower than RaTG13 which was another bat virus collected in Yunnan several years ago with a 96% match.
As per Professor Shi Weifong and his colleagues, this suggests that an ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 had departed from RpYN06 and TG13 lineages decades ago and has gone through a recombination event by mingling with different viral species.
The Shanghai-based life scientist who has been studying the evolution of Coronaviruses explained that most of the new viruses have emerged from the tropical areas, where the abundant animal species and hot climate allows different forms of viruses to compete and mingle with one another to form a new variant.