A freezer cabinet on the ground floor of a Phnom Penh laboratory and an irrigation pipe in a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand are not the most obvious places to look for the origins of the virus that sparked the Covid-19 pandemic. But both have offered clues. Stored away in a freezer at the Institut Pasteur in Cambodia – or Institut Pasteur du Cambodge – was a decade-old bat pathogen that counts as one of the closest known relatives to the Sars-CoV-2 virus now linked to the deaths of 2.5 million people worldwide.
“We know these coronaviruses can be found in bats, so it’s not surprising that we found this virus in a bat and it’s not surprising that the virus is very similar to Sars-CoV-2. The surprising part, really, was that it’s from 2010 and that it’s in Cambodia,” said Erik Karlsson, deputy head of the institute’s virology unit.