Cambodian bat researchers on mission to track origins of COVID-19

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Researchers at the Institut Pasteur du Camboj collected oral cotton swabs from bats captured on August 30, 2021, at Chhangouk Hill in Tarabaribat District, Staung Treng Province, Cambodia. Reuters / Cindy Liu

September 20, 2021

By Cindy Liu and Praak Chan Thuli

STUNG TRANG, Cambodia (Reuters) – Researchers collected samples from bats in northern Cambodia to understand the coronavirus pandemic and go back to areas where a similar virus was found in animals 10 years ago. Growth.

In 2010, two specimens were collected from horseshoe-shaped bats in Sting Trang province near Laos and stored in freezers at the Cambodia Pasteur Institute (IPC) in Phnom Penh.

Tests conducted last year showed it is close to the coronavirus, which has killed more than 4.6 million people worldwide.

An eight-member IPC research team collects samples from bats and records their species, sex, age and other details for a week. A similar study is underway in the Philippines.

“I hope the results of this study will help the world better understand COVID-19,” field coordinator Thavari Hom told Reuters when he had a net to catch the bats. ..

Host species such as bats usually show no symptoms of pathogens, but infecting humans and other animals can be devastating.

Dr. Visna Duong, IPC’s Dean of Virology, said her laboratory has made four such visits in the past two years, which are expected to provide clues about the origin and evolution of bat-borne viruses.

“I want to find out if the virus still exists and how it evolved,” he told Reuters.

Deadly bat viruses include Ebola and other coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

However, Vesna Duong said humans are the cause of the devastation caused by COVID-19 due to interference and destruction of natural habitats.

“When we try to get close to the wildlife, there is a possibility of the virus being carried by more wildlife than usual. There is also a possibility that the virus will turn to infect humans,” he said. Rice field.

Julia Guillebaud, a research engineer in IPC’s Virology Unit, said the French-funded project aims to explore how the wildlife trade might play a role.

“The (project) will provide new knowledge about Cambodia’s wild meat trade chains, document the diversity of betacoronaviruses that circulate in these chains, and develop a flexible and integrated early detection system for viral spillover events.” It is,” said Gillebaud.

(Reporting by Cindy Liu of Steing Trang and Prak Chan Thul of Phnom Penh, edited by Martin Petty and Andrew Heavens)

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