Wuhan Institute of Virology’s infectious diseases expert, Shi Zhengli, popularly known as Bat-Woman because of her work on bat viruses, has said the world may be on the verge of another coronavirus outbreak anytime soon.
In 2020, the world went to sleep as COVID-19 swept through nations, causing them to lock down their economies to prevent its spread. Millions of people died and only a quarter of that number were able to recover. After the peak of the virus in 2020, several other strains like the Omicron and Delta versions were mutated from the original, SARS-COV-2, and ravaged several parts of Europe and the rest of the world.
Bat-woman is currently at the center of risky viral research that is under strict scrutiny for her suspected role in a possible lab leak that could be responsible for the first COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, which led to the global pandemic in 2020. She is at the center of an ongoing worldwide debate and investigations related to the origin of COVID-19 disease, caused by the SAS-COV-2 virus. For years, Shi and her colleagues, in the company of some Western scientists, carried out risky and viral research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China.
They engaged in ‘gain-of-function’ research, which refers to any research that gives new properties to an organism – such as a virus – that it does not naturally have. In this latest study, Shi stressed that the future may be bleak, as, according to her, a future outbreak of coronavirus is ‘highly likely’.
According to information on the site of the institute, Bat-woman and her colleagues published a paper in July, noting that 20 other types of coronaviruses have a high chance of jumping into humans at any point shortly. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has noted that although there are hundreds of coronaviruses, only about seven of those can ‘affect’ humans.
SARS and SARS-COV-2, which are the popular viruses that cause the COVID-19 disease, are said to be among the seven that can affect humans. Recall that the SARS virus caused an epidemic in Asia from 2002 to 2004, with its first outbreak reported in East Asia.
Also, SARS-COV-2 was also found in Asia. This time, in Wuhan, China, the same city where Shi and her colleagues were said to have carried out the ‘risky’ viral research.
Details Of Shin Zhengli’s Paper
Published in the Journal of Emerging Microbes and Infections, Zhengli (et al), in their article titled, “Assessment and Zero-Diagnosis for Coronaviruses with Risk of Human Spillover’, assessed 40 coronaviruses and their potential to infect humans.
In the end, the researchers analyzed the viral traits, including population, genetic diversity, receptor, and host species for 40 coronaviruses from sub-species that can infect humans. The paper concluded that at least 20 of those viruses have a ‘high risk’ of causing human outbreaks.
“We conducted a comprehensive analysis of all known alpha and beta coronavirus species and pinpointed a list of 20 CoV species with a high risk of human spillover, which could be the causative agent of a future outbreak,” Shi et all stated.
Dictionary Of Coronaviruses
A scientist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a report described Shi’s findings as a ‘dictionary of coronaviruses’.
While most virology studies dive deep into a specific virus to inquire about its different properties and mechanisms, this research is closer to a ‘dictionary of coronaviruses’, stated this scientist to South China’s Morning Post.
The expert further noted, “Such studies are not regarded as ‘groundbreaking’ or technically challenging and thus less valued in the field, but they are important. Just like we need a mushroom textbook to avoid eating noxious mushrooms, it’s necessary to establish such tools for pathogens.”
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