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Is coronavirus the same as SARS?

Researchers perform genetic sequencing on the new coronavirus to help determine its origin.

The first case of 2019 novel coronavirus was reported in late December of 2019 and was believed to have originated at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China. The virus has now spread to other countries via people who have traveled recently from Wuhan.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses, typically, found in animals such as bats, camels, cats, dogs, and mice, but can sometimes infect humans. Similar well-known coronaviruses that have infected humans in the past include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

A study recently published in The Lancet discusses what researchers have found out about the novel coronavirus. Ten genomes of the virus were sampled from nine patients, eight of which visited the Huanan seafood market. The other patient had stayed in an area close by the market. Samples were collected from lung fluid. Researchers then ran the genome sequences in a database of other viruses

They found that the novel coronavirus was most related to two viruses of bat origin and were SARS-like coronaviruses. The viruses share 88% of their genome with the 2019-nCoV. This percentage indicates that bats are likely the originating hosts, but they are not a direct form of transmission. Likely, there is an intermediate carrier, thought to be sold at the seafood market, that allowed transmission from animals to humans.

The 2019-nCoV shares only 79% of its genome with the human SARS virus. Researchers studied this similarity and believe that the 2019-nCoV may use the same mechanisms to infect humans as SARS. The researchers believe that the virus binds to the receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Although, this has not been confirmed.

The ten genetic sequences that were studied share 99.98% of their genome. This tells us that this virus is new to humans and was caught early. In other words, enough time hasn’t passed to allow the virus to mutate. It is important that novel coronavirus mutations continue to be monitored. Future studies may further investigate whether the novel coronavirus infects humans in the same way as the SARS virus.


Written by Kayla Dillon, BS



  1. “2019 Novel Coronavirus.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 Feb 2020.
  2. Lu, Roujian, et al. “Genomic Characterisation and Epidemiology of 2019 novel Coronavirus: Implications for Virus Origins and Receptor Binding.” The Lancet. 30 Jan 2020.
  3. “The Lancet: 2019 Novel Coronavirus is Genetically Different to Human SARS and Should be Considered a New Human-infecting Coronavirus.” EurekAlert!. 29 Jan 2020.

Image by doodlart from Pixabay



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