MINNEAPOLIS, June 11 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered two mutations that likely allowed Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, to transmit from bats to humans.
MERS, a viral respiratory disease, was first diagnosed in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and has infected more nearly 1,200 people and led to 442 deaths, including the recent outbreak in the Republic of Korea.
In the new study, researchers at the University of Minnesota compared the sequences of MERS-CoV and two MERS-like viruses in bats, discovering two mutations that allow the bat viruses to infect human cells, according to a press release. In order for a virus to infect host cells, it must attach to a receptor on the host cell and be activated by it's enzymes, which allows for the fusion of the virus and host cells.
The two mutations were similar to ones discovered that allowed the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, to jump from animals to humans. UM researchers suggest future studies on both diseases need to examine the evolutionary processes that allowed each virus to mutate in order to infect human cells.
The study is publiished in the Journal of Virology.