[Source of the COVID-19 pandemic: ecology and genetics of coronaviruses (Betacoronavirus: Coronaviridae) SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 (subgenus Sarbecovirus), and MERS-CoV (subgenus Merbecovirus).]Vopr Virusol. 2020; 65(2):62-70.VV
Since the early 2000s, three novel zooanthroponous coronaviruses (Betacoronavirus) have emerged. The first outbreak of infection (SARS) caused by SARS-CoV virus occurred in the fall of 2002 in China (Guangdong Province). A second outbreak (MERS) associated with the new MERS-CoV virus appeared in Saudi Arabia in autumn 2012. The third epidemic, which turned into a COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus, emerged in China (Hubei Province) in the autumn 2019. This review focuses on ecological and genetic aspects that lead to the emergence of new human zoanthroponous coronaviruses. The main mechanism of adaptation of zoonotic betacoronaviruses to humans is to changes in the receptor-binding domain of surface protein (S), as a result of which it gains the ability to bind human cellular receptors of epithelial cells in respiratory and gastrointestinal tract. This process is caused by the high genetic diversity and variability combined with frequent recombination, during virus circulation in their natural reservoir - bats (Microchiroptera, Chiroptera). Appearance of SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 (subgenus Sarbecovirus), and MERS (subgenus Merbecovirus) viruses is a result of evolutionary events occurring in bat populations with further transfer of viruses to the human directly or through the intermediate vertebrate hosts, ecologically connected with bats. This review is based on the report at the meeting «Coronavirus - a global challenge to science» of the Scientific Council «Life Science» of the Russian Academy of Science: Lvov D.K., Alkhovsky S.V., Burtseva E.I. COVID-19 pandemic sources: origin, biology and genetics of coronaviruses of SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, MERS-CoV (Conference hall of Presidium of RAS, 14 Leninsky Prospect, Moscow, Russia. April 16, 2020).