Genetic research has all but confirmed that the new coronavirus spreading in China called nCoV-2019 originally came from bats.
But experts are still racing to pin down another key piece of the zoonotic puzzle: which animal species served as the virus’ intermediary between bats and people.
Many possibilities have been floated, including snakes (which is unlikely), pigs, and a weasel-like animal called a civet that passed SARS from bats to people in 2002. Now, a group of researchers from South China Agricultural University in Guangdong suggest the coronavirus’ intermediate host might have been the pangolin, an endangered mammal.
According to China’s Xinhua news agency, the researchers found that samples of coronaviruses taken from wild pangolins and from infected patients are 99% identical.
But this research has yet to be published or confirmed by other experts.
At least one species of pangolin can die from coronaviruses, according to a study published last year. That strengthens the theory that the new coronavirus could have jumped from bats to these creatures before making its way into humans.
A pangolin resembles a scaly anteater. Its keratin scales are used as ingredients in traditional Chinese medicinal remedies, and its meat is a delicacy in China and Vietnam.