Despite the existence of COVID-19 variants, researchers say the SARS-CoV-2 virus has undergone relatively little change since first transmitting from bats to humans in December 2019, according to data published in Plos Biology.
Studying the mutational processes of SARS-CoV-2 and related sarbecoviruses (the group of viruses SARS-CoV-2 belongs to from bats and pangolins), the authors find evidence of fairly significant change, but all before the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. This means that the ‘generalist’ nature of many coronaviruses and their apparent facility to jump between hosts, imbued SARS-CoV-2 with ready-made ability to infect humans and other mammals, but those properties most have probably evolved in bats prior to spillover to humans.
“What’s been so surprising is just how transmissible SARS-CoV-2 has been from the outset. Usually viruses that jump to a new host species take some time to acquire adaptations to be as capable as SARS-CoV-2 at spreading, and most never make it past that stage, resulting in dead-end spillovers or localized outbreaks,” [said Prof Sergei Pond of the Institute for Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine, Temple University].