A team of international scientists has isolated a very close relative of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) from horseshoe bats in China, confirming them as the origin of the virus responsible for the 2002-3 pandemi, which killed 774 people of the 8094 people infected and led to diagnosed cases across the world, impacting international travel and trade.

Horseshoe bats are found around the world, including Australia and play an important ecological role. Their role in SARS-CoV transmission highlights the importance of protecting the bat's natural environment so they are not forced into highly populated urban areas in search of food.

While researchers globally have previously used genetic sequencing to demonstrate that bats are the natural reservoirs of SARS-like CoVs, this is the first time that live virus has been successfully isolated from bats to definitively confirm them as the origin of the virus.

The research team led by Professor Shi Zhengli from Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, successfully isolated a SARS-like CoV, named SL-CoV WIV1, directly from fecal samples of Chinese Horseshoe bats using the world renowned bat virus isolation methodology developed by scientists at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong.

The results will help governments design more effective prevention strategies for SARS and similar epidemics.

Citation: Xing-Yi Ge, Jia-Lu Li, Xing-Lou Yang, Aleksei A. Chmura, Guangjian Zhu, Jonathan H. Epstein, Jonna K. Mazet, Ben Hu, Wei Zhang, Cheng Peng, Yu-Ji Zhang, Chu-Ming Luo, Bing Tan, Ning Wang, Yan Zhu, Gary Crameri, Shu-Yi Zhang, Lin-Fa Wang, Peter Daszak& Zheng-Li Shi, 'Isolation and characterization of a bat SARS-like coronavirus that uses the ACE2 receptor', Nature 30 October 2013 doi:10.1038/nature12711