Guano mining is a real thing, and a really fascinating thing. And sometimes a really dangerous thing, too. The Bioscience Resource Project revisits the case of some Chinese miners who, while extracting mineral wealth from the mess bats left behind, fell ill with a new kind of sickness back in 2012 – a viral illness that incubated in their bodies for months, giving the bat-borne virus plenty of time to mutate into something capable of easily infecting humans… like maybe COVID-19:
In our search for the origins of the pandemic we focussed on the nearest genetic relative of SARS-CoV-2, a bat coronavirus called RaTG13. This virus was obtained during 2012 and 2013 virus collecting trips to a mine where, shortly before, six miners had developed a mystery illness while shoveling bat feces. To learn more, we arranged the translation of a neglected Chinese Master’s thesis that documented the symptoms and hospital treatment of these miners. This thesis contains many surprises. Foremost, the miners were diagnosed as having coronavirus infections, and second, their symptoms are now recognisable as those of classic COVID-19. This and other information in the thesis caused us to rethink everything we thought we knew about the origins of the pandemic. In A Proposed Origin for SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 Pandemic, we set out what we call the Mojiang Miners Passaging hypothesis. The theory proposes (1) that the miners acquired a coronavirus from the bats in the mine and (2) that this bat virus evolved extensively inside their bodies to become a highly human-adapted virus. This evolution occurred during a hospitalisation period that, for some of them, lasted many months. From the thesis we also know that blood and other samples were extracted from the miners and some of these were sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). We suggest that these samples contained highly human-adapted viruses and were used at the WIV for research. During this research the virus escaped, initiating the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic.
I want to emphasize here that this is speculation, though it is scientific speculation. You can read the full article on RaTG13 as a possible ancestor of COVID-19 here, at Independent Science News for Food and Agriculture.
[via Mr. Clarry]