KEY POINTS

  • The open-air market in Wuhan sells 112 different live animals
  • Chinese Krait and Cobra snakes might have spread the fatal coronavirus
  • The local authorities have closed and labeled the market ‘ground zero’

The number of people infected and dead due to the fatal novel coronavirus is on the rise. There are no approved antiviral drugs or vaccines available for treatment and prevention as of this writing.

Researchers at Peking University believe that the virus has spread to human beings from snakes sold at the Wuhan open-air market. They opined that the genetic material from two different viruses -- one that affects bats and another virus -- recombined and picked up a protein that allows it to bind to host cells such as those of human beings.

Upon analyzing the genetic strains that affect the host animals, they found that snakes were susceptible to the most similar version of the coronavirus and suggested that the snakes sold at the Wuhan market might have acted as a reservoir for the deadly viral strain to grow and replicate.

The Wuhan market, which is said to be the epicenter of coronavirus, sells snakes alongside live koalas, rats and wolf pups. The researchers believe that the snakes might have served as the jumping-off point for coronavirus to start infecting human beings who visited the market.

According to Scientific American, the two varieties of snakes responsible for the outbreak of the deadly virus in China are the Chinese krait and the Chinese cobra.

It is not uncommon that live animal markets are sources of new viral illnesses afflicting human beings. The animals mix and mingle alongside the viruses they carry. When such viruses mix, they can exchange genetic material and become novel strains after mutation.

In the case of the new coronavirus, its genetic material is RNA, unlike certain viruses that have DNA. The type of protein a virus has on its surface tells which species it can infect. So they have found out that this virus is a combination of one that infects bats and another virus that they are yet to identify. The scientists explain that along the evolutionary path of the coronavirus, it has picked up a protein that could infect snakes sold at the Wuhan market.

The researchers believe that their findings likely narrow down the source of the virus from the list of 112 different live animals and meats sold at the market situated in the coronavirus epicenter, Daily Mail reported.

snake-1974382_1920 Representation. Photo: Peka, Pixabay