In April of last year, two Jordanians died of a mysterious respiratory illness, followed by another man with similar symptoms in Saudi Arabia. Scientists and public health experts were surprised to identify the cause as a novel coronavirus, like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002, that had been caused by a coronavirus that originated in China. 

Over the course of eight months, SARS infected more than 8,000 people in nearly 30 countries and killed almost 10 percent of them so concern for this new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was not exaggerated. The team that discovered it, led by Dr Ali Zaki of the Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah and Dr Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, sequenced its RNA genome. With this information, they were able to construct an evolutionary tree that revealed the new coronavirus to be closely related to two others, both of which infect bats. Hence, this flying mammal became the lead suspect in the investigation.

But people don't really come into contact with a lot of bats, so the search began for an intermediate host species.

Read the fascinating tale at Watching the detectives: The search for the source of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in The Economist