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Coronavirus: The Origin Story

In recent years, animal-to-human crossovers were observed with Nipha virus in Malaysia, Ebola and Marburg viruses in Africa. SARS-CoV-2 is just one among three 21st century animal-to-human Coronavirus spillover events. Considering the high rate of mutation among RNA viruses, the number of animal coronaviruses, and the mixing of animal species in densely populated areas spillover into  is not unexpected.

Coronavirus was first identified  in the 1960s by Tyrrel and Byone1. Its pathogenicity is for the most part considered low, occasionally leading to acute upper respiratory infection in infants, young adults, the elderly and immunocompromised patients. This virus family is taxonomically subdivided into alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-coronavirus and known to cause diseases in human and non-human animals. Prior to the identification of SARS-CoV-2, seven strains were known to cause mild to moderate respiratory infections similar to the common cold in humans: 229E, NL63, MERS and SARS and OC43, and KHU13.


Human Coronavirus species

229E, NL6 (alpha coronavirus) and OC43, HKU1 (non-SARS human beta coronavirus) common causes of human infections worldwide


Non-SARS human species


Other human coronaviruses from animal spillover



Novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19


Primarily avian coronavirus (IBV)

Avian virus primarily affecting chickens; causative agent for infectious bronchitis virus (IBV)


Primarily avian; also detected in marine mammals

 Recently discovered avian (songbird) coronavirus

Human Coronavirus (HCoV) is a common cause of respiratory infection worldwide: CoV 229E and OC43 have a prevalence rate of 3-11% among hospitalized elderly patients4 and cause approximately 25% of colds similar to those caused by the rhinoviruses5. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus first reported in 2002 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) first reported in 2012 cause severe respiratory infections in humans. Both strains are zoonotic pathogens suspected to have originated in bats. Coronaviruses that are highly pathogenic in humans are a 21st century phenomenon beginning with the emergence of SARS and MERS6. However, MERS-CoV  antibodies have been detected in camel serum samples dating as far back as 1983. This suggest MERS may have emerged decades before the 2012 outbreak7. SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for coronavirus-associated acute respiratory disease (COVID-19), is now the third documented animal-to-human coronavirus spillover. Phylogenetic analysis of SARS-COV-2 show it is closely related to the 2002 virus8.

Addressing the public health threat posed by SARS-CoV2 requires a deeper understanding of the host-pathogen interactions that contribute to morbidity and mortality in COVID-19 patients. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgent and immediate need for access to effective and affordable SARS-CoV-2 R&D tools. But the few numbers of BSL-3 and BSL-4 facilities available creates a barrier to the timely development of effective treatments for emerging public health threats. Recombinant technologies offers tools accelerate the development of rapid quantitative tests for viral infectivity without strict biocontainment9. For example, neutralization assays using pseudotyped virus particles instead of instead of live pathogen, can provide scientists cost-effective BSL-2 safe research alternative. Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) particles pseudotyped to express the SARS-CoV-2 Spike provides a platform for evaluating treatment candidates that target Spike-mediated infectivity. Using Luciferase fluorescent signals such platforms can be used to screen the neutralizing potency of test candidates that work by blocking Spike-mediated cell entry. Learn about pseudotyped-VSV-SARS-CoV2 neutralization assays. Find SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein and Receptor Binding Domain proteins

IBT Bioservices is a BSL2 pre-clinical CRO for infectious disease R&D. Our mission is to deliver high quality discovery tools and testing services to advance the fight against infectious diseases. Our offerings include proof-of-concept in vitro and in vivo research service for a range of viral and bacterial pathogens.


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IBT Bioservices continues to conduct critical work as an essential business under the State of Maryland’s COVID-19 response directive. We have implemented a risk management plan and are continually monitoring the situation to ensure continuation of research according to public health services recommended best-practices for keeping our employees and the community safe. 

The IBT Bioservices team will continue to deliver high quality products and services for every project. If you have any questions contact us at