Research identifies gaps in bat coronavirus surveillance and calls for global health security measures

Since the discovery of SARS in 2002, scientists have recognized the potential threat of coronaviruses as pandemics. This situation has highlighted the need for evidence-based strategies to monitor bat coronaviruses. Dr. Daniel Becker, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma, has been collaborating with researchers nationwide to determine the future directions of research.

Dr. Becker, along with a team of scientists from the Verena Institute, recently published a paper in Nature Microbiology. The lead author of the study was Lily Cohen, a medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the research involved collaboration with researchers from Georgetown University and Colorado State University.

The study conducted by Dr. Becker and his colleagues is part of the broader efforts of the Verena Institute, an international research team dedicated to predicting which viruses could potentially infect humans, identifying the animals that host them, and determining the regions where these viruses could emerge. Dr. Becker played a pivotal role as a founding member of the institute in 2020.

Dr. Becker explained the motivation behind their research, stating, “With the increased interest in bat coronaviruses, our aim was to enhance our understanding of these viruses in their natural environment and improve our research methods. This work is crucial for global health and conservation efforts. Our study resulted in data-driven recommendations on how to proceed with future investigations on bat coronaviruses in the wild.”

The researchers focused on identifying regions of the world with insufficient sampling, groups of bats that have not been adequately studied, and utilizing all available data to enhance bat surveillance and prioritize future research. They compiled data from 110 studies, encompassing over 80,000 tested samples, to assess coronavirus infection prevalence in wild bats. Additionally, they examined biases in previous research on bat coronaviruses conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings of their research revealed significant variations in coronavirus prevalence across different studies, reflecting differences in virus dynamics over time and space, as well as methodological variations. The type of samples collected and the sampling design were identified as the most influential factors affecting coronavirus prevalence.

The study highlighted that bat sampling efforts prior to the COVID-19 pandemic were concentrated in China, leaving research gaps in South Asia, the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, and certain subfamilies of leaf-nosed bats. Dr. Becker and his colleagues propose that future surveillance strategies should address these gaps in order to enhance global health security and facilitate the identification of zoonotic coronavirus origins.

Source: University of Oklahoma

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