The Virus Hunter
Bats form a natural reservoir for numerous corona viruses. The causative agent of the currently rampant Covid 19 pandemic probably comes from them. Researchers like the Chinese virologist Shi Zenghli are calling for a proactive search for viruses that threaten to spread to humans - before another outbreak occurs.
The samples of concern arrived at the Wuhan Institute of Virology at 7 p.m. on December 30, 2019. A few moments later, Shi Zhengli's mobile phone rang - her boss, the director of the institute, called. The Wuhan City Center for Disease Control and Prevention had discovered a novel coronavirus in two patients with atypical pneumonia. They want Shi Zhengli and her renowned lab to look into the matter. If the suspicion of a new pathogen were confirmed, it could pose a serious threat to public he alth. It belongs to a family of viruses that are transmitted by bats and that also caused the respiratory disease Sars, the severe acute respiratory syndrome. Between 2002 and 2003, 8100 people contracted Sars, of whom nearly 800 died. "Drop everything and take care of it immediately," Shi recalls the director's words.
Shi is a virologist - also known as "Batwoman". At least that's what many colleagues call the researcher because she's been hunting viruses in bat caves for 16 years. After ending the call with her boss, she left the conference she had just attended in Shanghai and boarded the next train to Wuhan."I was wondering if [the city he alth department] was wrong," says Shi. "I never expected something like this to happen in Wuhan, in central China." In her previous studies, she had actually identified the subtropical provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan in the south of the country as the regions where coronaviruses are most likely to jump from animals to humans - especially from bats. These mammals are notorious reservoirs of many pathogens. If the new germs were really corona viruses, Shi feared at that moment: "Could they have been accidentally released from our laboratory?" …