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article imageBats identified as the source of MERS

By Tim Sandle     Jun 15, 2015 in Science
Seoul - MERS is currently causing renewed health concerns around the world, with cases up in South Korea and China. Scientists remained puzzled over how MEMR first came to infect people. A popular theory is via bats.
Aside from bats, the other theory is camels. At present the bat theory holds greater likelihood. In a new research study, two key mutations that seem to allow the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus to transmit from bats to humans have been identified.
MERS is similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and the two viruses come from the same viral family: a coronavirus. Symptoms of MERS infection are renal failure and severe acute pneumonia. These invariably result in a fatal outcome.
The situation with the recent MERS outbreak in Asia is serious. In South Korea, President Park Geun-Hye reported this week on the sixteenth death from the virus. There are currently 150 identified cases.
With the new research, scientists looked at the sequences of MERS virus and MERS-like bat viruses. Using molecular biological methods they discovered that only two mutations were needed to change MERS-like bat viruses to a type that can infect human cells. Two mutations is a relatively small change in the realm of viruses.
The two identified mutations permitted the virus to become able to lock onto human cells and then be able to activate the cell enzymes, which allows for the virus to fuse with the cell. Once fused, the virus can take over the cell machinery to produce copies of itself.
It is hoped that this insight will enable scientists to understand how the virus transmits and what might happen should the virus undergo further mutations.
The research findings have been published in the Journal of Virology. The research paper is titled “Two mutations were critical for bat-to-human transmission of MERS coronavirus.”
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