Putting DNA to Work

Finding The Source

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Where Did SARS Come From?

Knowing that SARS is caused by a particular strain of coronavirus allowed public health researchers to trace the virus back to its first appearance in humans.

SARS did not appear to stem from a hostile or criminal act. Rather, the first cases appeared among people who handle certain wild animals, which are eaten as delicacies in parts of China.

Tests of animals showed that the SARS strain of coronavirus is present in masked palm civets, Chinese ferret badgers, and raccoon dogs. It is possible that one of these animals was imported into China and used as food, allowing the virus to move into and adapt to grow in a human. Once this happened, the virus moved from person to person through close contact.

Photo of masked palm civet

Masked Palm Civet

SARS may have originated in animals. The masked palm civet (left) is one possible source. Chinese ferret badgers and raccoon dogs have also be cited as possible sources. (National Zoological Park ©2004 Smithsonian Institution)

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