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We still don’t know for sure where the coronavirus came from. Here’s why

More than a year after the novel coronavirus had spread to all corners of the globe, officially becoming a pandemic, we still don’t know where it came from .

Many researchers agree the virus most likely came from nature, probably harbored in bats. Even so, conspiracy theories claiming that the virus came from a lab arose shortly after the first genetic blueprint for SARS-CoV-2 was unveiled in January 2020. Using that very genetic blueprint, multiple studies have refuted the lab-borne hypothesis and continue to point to bats as the original source of the virus.

But even after more than a year of sleuthing, many questions remain. It’s unclear where those bats lived. Nor do researchers know whether another animal was responsible for helping the virus jump from bats to people. Answering these questions could take years. Viruses often take labyrinthian journeys as they hop from host to host, so tracing their origins is time-consuming. And with myriad versions of coronaviruses circulating in bats, finding the ones that gave rise to SARS-CoV-2 will require both luck and skill.

Sign up for e-mail updates on the latest coronavirus news and research Still, identifying the source of SARS-CoV-2 is important, says virologist Chee Wan Tan of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. Knowing the virus’s origin could help researchers figure out ways to keep an eye out for similar viruses and, hopefully, prevent future outbreaks.

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