A virologist referred to as 'Bat Woman' has warned about a new SARS-like pandemic caused by bats and viruses being involved in an 'evolutionary arms race'.
Shi Zhengli is one of the world's authorities on coronavirus.
Shi, who has been credited with unlocking the genetic code for COVID-19, said a study found that coronaviruses and bats may have co-evolved over time and experience selection pressure from each other.
The 55-year-old based in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of coronavirus, claims the new threat is a result of the flying mammals and the virus constantly evolving.
According to local media, Shi, who has been the target of unproven theories about COVID-19 escaping from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said that the newly published findings are further proof that the horseshoe bat caused the ongoing pandemic.
Dubbed 'Bat Woman' by colleagues because of her virus-hunting cave expeditions over the past 16 years, Shi and her fellow researchers published the study on May 14 on the platform bioRxiv.
The study is titled 'evolutionary arms race between virus and host drives genetic diversity in bat SARS related coronavirus spike genes' and says the horseshoe bat carries many coronaviruses with high genetic diversity, especially in the spike protein.
According to the research, some bat viruses can utilise the orthologs of a human protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), a SARS-CoV receptor, to enter human cells.
The study says that the SARSr-CoV spike protein and bat ACE2 may have evolved together and experienced selection pressure from one other.
Scientists believe this further proves that the horseshoe bat is the natural host of SARSr-CoVs. Chinese researchers will continue to study bat viruses to prevent another SARS-like pandemic taking place, according to reports. China has consistently denied that COVID-19 originated in a lab.
The World Health Organisation has said scientists examining its genetic sequences have ruled that "this virus is natural in origin".