Cambodian bat researchers on mission to track COVID-19 source by Reuters


Bat A researcher at the Reuters Institute Pastur du Cambodia took a verbal swab from a bat caught in August 2021 in Changuk Hill, Thala Borivat District, Steng Trang Province, Cambodia.


By Cindy Liu and Pre-Chan Thule

Stong Trang, Cambodia (Reuters) – Researchers are collecting samples from bats in northern Cambodia to understand the coronavirus epidemic, returning to an area where a very similar virus was found in animals a decade ago.

Two samples of the Horse Light bat were collected in 2010 in the province of Stong Trang, near Laos, and kept in the freezer at the Pasteur du Combo (IPC) Institute in Phnom Penh.

Tests on them last year revealed a close relative of the coronavirus that has killed more than 4.6 million people worldwide.

An eight-member IPC research team has been collecting samples from bats for a week and logging their species, gender, age and other details. Similar research is underway at Philippines.

“We hope that the results of this study can help the world understand better about Kovid-1,” field coordinator Thavri Hoem told Reuters as he caught nets to catch bats.

Host species like bats usually show no symptoms of the bacterium, but can be destructive if transmitted to humans or other animals.

Dr Veesna Duong, head of the virology department at the IPC, said his institute had made four such trips in the past two years, hoping for clues about the origin and evolution of the bat-borne virus.

“We want to know if the virus is still there and … how the virus evolved,” he told Reuters.

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

But Visna Duong said humans were responsible for the destruction caused by Kovid-1 by interference and the destruction of natural habitats.

“If we try to stay close to wildlife, the chances of the virus being carried by wildlife are higher than normal. The virus is also more likely to be transmitted to humans,” he said.

Julia Guilbad, a research engineer in the IPC’s virology unit, said the French-funded project aims to show how wildlife trade can play a role.

“(The project) aims to provide new knowledge about the wild meat trade chain in Cambodia, to document the diversity of beta-coronaviruses through these chains, and to develop a flexible and integrated early detection system for viral spill-over events,” Gilliboud said.

(Cindy Liu’s report in Stong Treng and Thule in Phnom Penh; edited by Martin Petty and Andrew Heaven)

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