A NEW coronavirus found in British bats could mutate to infect humans, a study claims.
The Covid-like virus could adapt to spill over into people, researchers said, although it is not clear if it has any potential to cause harm.
A new coronavirus in British bats could infect humans, a study claims[/caption]
Scientists screened 48 droppings from from 16 of the 17 bat species breeding in the UK for coronaviruses.
They found nine types of the virus, one of which “lies only one mutation away” from having a similar structure to what makes Covid so infectious.
Professor Francois Balloux, of University College London, said the virus might have some “zoonotic potential”, but insisted the current threat remains low.
Writing in the study, he said: “Overall, while UK sarbecoviruses would require further adaptations to infect humans, their risk is unknown but warrants closer surveillance.”
Zoonotic diseases — which spread from animals to people — are considered a potential pandemic-causing threat.
Concerns are growing at the moment about bird flu, which has already shown an ability to jump to other mammals, including dolphins, sea lions and mink.
And the Covid pandemic is also thought to have started after the virus spread from a bat to humans, possibly via other mammals.
The latest study, published as a pre-print on Bioxiv, screened for coronaviruses in bats across Britain.
While it did not name where exactly samples were taken from, researchers highlighted Bristol, Birmingham and Brighton as areas where the bats tend to mix.
Of the viruses spotted, two were discovered for the first time, named RhGB07 and RfGB02.
RhGB07 was found to have the potential to bind to a protein found on the surface of human cells when tested in the lab.
But it could only do so “sub-optimally”, researchers said, and its ability was 17-fold lower than SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid.
Professor Balloux said: “Before anyone freaks out, please let me reassure you no bat got hurt during the work. We used bat faecal samples (droppings).
“Also, none of the experiments were dangerous in any way. We didn’t use any live virus. All lab experiments were done with totally safe ‘pseudoviruses’.”