SARS comes from bats

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is caused by a coronavirus that is now believed to have originated in bats. In 2004, thousands of palm civets (a cat like carnivore) were killed off in China because it was believed that they were the main reservoir of this disease. Ooops.

It appears now that the civets had contracted the disease from humans, rather than the other way around.

Nearly a thousand people among the 8,000 or so infected died during that outbreak, and no human infections are known since early 2004.

A number of different researchers who have been looking at the source of SARS have suggested bats as the source, but this study apparently nails it down.

To arrive at these conclusions, Janies and colleagues secured genetic data of hundreds of different isolates of the SARS-CoV virus that had been found in humans, various bats, civets, raccoon badgers and pigs. Using the same equipment that was originally developed for the Human Genome Project, scientists determined the nucleotide sequence of each of the viruses. Bioinformatics came into play as the researchers linked many computers together to be able to analyze the massive amounts of data, comparing the viral genomes and building what is called a phylogenetic tree by searching for shared mutations. Phylogenetics is the study of the evolutionary relationships among various biological species, or in this case, viruses, believed to have a common ancestor.

The resulting tree is a branching diagram that illustrates the interrelationship of various viruses. The phylogenetic tree also shows the timeline of the travels and mutations of various strains of SARS as they jumped between host species. In this tree, the SARS-CoV virus traveled from bat hosts to humans, from humans to civets and pigs, and, in rare cases late in the outbreak, back to humans.

An extensive writeup is here. The work is to be published in the journal Cladistics.

More like this

I've mentioned previously the role, or potential role, that bats play in disease transmission. They have long been suspected, and recently identified, as hosts for the Ebola virus. (Whether they're the main reservoir species and what--if any--role they play in transmission of the virus to…
As the world is now painfully aware, pigs can act as reservoirs for viruses that have the potential to jump into humans, triggering mass epidemics. Influenza is one such virus, but a group of Texan scientists have found another example in domestic Philippine pigs, and its one that's simultaneously…
I've mentioned repeatedly how little we know about Ebola ecology--what the reservoir host(s) are, how it's transmitted to humans (and other species), why it causes outbreaks when it does. We know even less about the Reston subtype of Ebola, which--in contrast to the Zaire, Sudan, Ivory Coast,…
In the time since the words "swine flu" first dominated the headlines, a group of scientists from three continents have been working to understand the origins of the new virus and to chart its evolutionary course. Today, they have published their timely results just as the World Health Organisation…

Poor bats. First there was the vampire thing, then the Ebola thing, and now SARS. Talk about an animal with a bad rap. Gotta like the insect and rotten fruit eating aspect though.

FYI, sentence one, "not" should be "now".