GUANGZHOU, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- The genome sequence of the novel coronavirus strain separated from pangolins was 99 percent identical to that from infected people, indicating pangolins may be an intermediate host of the virus, a study has found.
The study was led by the South China Agricultural University. According to Liu Yahong, president of the university, the research team analyzed more than 1,000 metagenome samples of wild animals and found pangolins as the most likely intermediate host.
Molecular biological detection revealed that the positive rate of Betacoronavirus in pangolins was 70 percent. Researchers further isolated the virus and observed its structure with an electron microscope. They found that the genome sequence of the coronavirus strain was 99 percent identical to that of infected people.
Results showed that pangolins are a potential intermediate host of the novel coronavirus, Liu said, adding that the study will support the prevention and control of the epidemic, as well as offer scientific reference for policies on wild animals.
Shen Yongyi, a professor with the university and a member of the research team, said previous research had found the new coronavirus originated in bats, but as the spread of the virus happened in winter, it was unlikely that people had been directly infected by bats, which were hibernating.
"So our task is to find the intermediate host that 'bridges' bats and people," Shen said.
Shen said there are usually multiple intermediate hosts, and pangolins may be just one of them.
"On the one hand, we hope this result will warn people to stay away from wild animals. On the other, we would like to share it with research fellows in the hope of making efforts together to find other possible intermediate hosts to promote the epidemic prevention and control," he said.