Selection of viral variants during persistent infection of insectivorous bat cells with Coronavirus

New paper shows that when exposed to the MERS Coronavirus (CoV)  bat cells adapt—not by producing inflammation-causing proteins but rather by maintaining a natural antiviral response. Simultaneously, the MERS virus also adapts to the bat host cells by very rapidly mutating one specific gene. Operating together, these adaptations result in the virus remaining long-term in the bat but being rendered harmless. Instead of killing bat cells as the virus does with human cells, the MERS coronavirus enters a long-term relationship with the host, maintained by the bat’s unique ‘super’ immune system. SARS-CoV-2 is thought to operate in the same way. The work suggests that stresses on bats—such as wet markets, other diseases, and possibly habitat loss—may have a role in coronavirus spilling over to other species.

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