Identification of novel bat coronaviruses sheds light on the evolutionary origins of SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses

Cell. 2021 Aug 19;184(17):4380-4391.e14. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.06.008. Epub 2021 Jun 9.


Despite the discovery of animal coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV-2, the evolutionary origins of this virus are elusive. We describe a meta-transcriptomic study of 411 bat samples collected from a small geographical region in Yunnan province, China, between May 2019 and November 2020. We identified 24 full-length coronavirus genomes, including four novel SARS-CoV-2-related and three SARS-CoV-related viruses. Rhinolophus pusillus virus RpYN06 was the closest relative of SARS-CoV-2 in most of the genome, although it possessed a more divergent spike gene. The other three SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses carried a genetically distinct spike gene that could weakly bind to the hACE2 receptor in vitro. Ecological modeling predicted the co-existence of up to 23 Rhinolophus bat species, with the largest contiguous hotspots extending from South Laos and Vietnam to southern China. Our study highlights the remarkable diversity of bat coronaviruses at the local scale, including close relatives of both SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; bats; coronavirus; evolution; phylogeny; porcine epidemic diarrhea virus; spike protein; swine acute diarrhea syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 / chemistry
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Asia, Southeastern
  • COVID-19 / virology*
  • China
  • Chiroptera / virology*
  • Coronavirus / classification
  • Coronavirus / genetics*
  • Coronavirus / isolation & purification
  • Ecological and Environmental Phenomena
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Viral
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phylogeny
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / physiology
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / chemistry
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / metabolism
  • Viral Zoonoses


  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2