The novel coronavirus caused severe respiratory illness in 13 adults from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. Patients showed symptoms similar SARS virus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which spread like wildfire in 2002 and 2003, infecting 8,100 people and killing nearly 800.
Accurate gene sequencing showed that this new virus isn't SARS or even a known coronavirus that causes colds. Rather it's a totally new virus that needs to be handled with caution until more is known about it.
The new virus is most closely related to coronaviruses that bats carry, but it probably didn't jump directly from bats to people. None of the people who got the disease had direct contact with bats, and the virus is not exactly the same as any known to infect bats.
Scientists still do not know how people catch the virus or how infectious it is. Also uncertain is whether the new virus could evolve into a SARS-like pandemic, or whether it will slip away as mysteriously as it appeared.
Researchers studied the genome of the new virus (HCoV-EMC/2012 virus) in detail to learn about its relatedness to other viruses and about possible sources.
Phylogenetic analyses place the new SARS-like virus (HCoV-EMC/2012) within the Betacoronavirus genus, where its closest fully sequenced relatives are viruses called BtCoV-HKU4 and BtCoV-HKU5, both of which were originally isolated in Asia from Lesser bamboo bats (Tylonycteris pachypus) and Japanese house bats (Pipistrellus abramus), respectively. HCoV-EMC/2012 bears only 77% sequence similarity with the BtCoV-HKU5 virus.
In addition to the insights it provides for identifying the source of the virus and linking cases of illness together, the genome sequence of the HCoV-EMC/2012 virus will also enable scientists to study the virus in more detail. By making synthetic copies of the virus genome, scientists can reconstruct the virus in the lab and study its properties to identify the sources of its virulence.
Tina Hesman Saey (27 February 2013) "Scientists race to understand deadly new virus" ScienceNews.
Michaeleen Doucleff (26 September 2012) "Scientists Go Deep On Genes Of SARS-Like Virus" NPR.
"New Coronavirus Related to Viruses from Bats" ScienceDaily. 20 November 2012.