Nearly a year after the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was identified, researchers have yet to determine how it “jumped species” to infect humans. Virologist Étienne Decroly discusses the various hypotheses, including that of an accidental leak from a laboratory.
At a time when researchers are racing against the clock to develop viable vaccines and treatments, why is it so important to understand the genealogy of the virus behind the Covid-19 pandemic?
Étienne Decroly: 1 After SARS-CoV in 2002 and MERS-CoV in 2012, SARS-CoV-2, which was quickly identified as causing Covid-19, is the third human coronavirus responsible for a severe respiratory syndrome to have emerged in the past 20 years. We are now quite familiar with this family of viruses, which circulate primarily among bats, and whose zoonotic transfer occasionally triggers epidemics among humans. It is therefore crucial to understand how this pathogen crossed the species barrier and became easily transmissible from human to human. It is essential to study the evolutionary mechanisms and molecular processes involved in the advent of this pandemic virus in order to better anticipate potential outbreaks of this type, and to develop therapeutic and vaccinal strategies.