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Coexistence of multiple coronaviruses in several bat colonies in an abandoned mineshaft

Since the 2002–2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak prompted a search for the natural reservoir of the SARS coronavirus, numerous alpha- and betacoronaviruses have been discovered in bats around the world. Bats are likely the natural reservoir of alpha- and betacoronaviruses, and due to the rich diversity and global distribution of bats, the number of bat coronaviruses will likely increase. We conducted a surveillance of coronaviruses in bats in an abandoned mineshaft in Mojiang County, Yunnan Province, China, from 2012–2013. Six bat species were frequently detected in the cave: Rhinolophus sinicus, Rhinolophus affinis, Hipposideros pomona, Miniopterus schreibersii, Miniopterus fuliginosus, and Miniopterus fuscus. By sequencing PCR products of the coronavirus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase gene (RdRp), we found a high frequency of infection by a diverse group of coronaviruses in different bat species in the mineshaft. Sequenced partial RdRp fragments had 80%–99% nucleic acid sequence identity with well-characterized Alphacoronavirus species, including BtCoV HKU2, BtCoV HKU8, and BtCoV1, and unassigned species BtCoV HKU7 and BtCoV HKU10. Additionally, the surveillance identified two unclassified betacoronaviruses, one new strain of SARS-like coronavirus, and one potentially new betacoronavirus species. Furthermore, coronavirus co-infection was detected in all six bat species, a phenomenon that fosters recombination and promotes the emergence of novel virus strains. Our findings highlight the importance of bats as natural reservoirs of coronaviruses and the potentially zoonotic source of viral pathogens.

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