Bats are speculated to be reservoirs of several emerging viruses including coronaviruses (CoVs) that cause serious disease in humans and agricultural animals. These include CoVs that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) and severe acute diarrhea syndrome (SADS). Bats that are naturally infected or experimentally infected do not demonstrate clinical signs of disease. These observations have allowed researchers to speculate that bats are the likely reservoirs or ancestral hosts for several CoVs. In this review, we follow the CoV outbreaks that are speculated to have originated in bats. We review studies that have allowed researchers to identify unique adaptation in bats that may allow them to harbor CoVs without severe disease. We speculate about future studies that are critical to identify how bats can harbor multiple strains of CoVs and factors that enable these viruses to “jump” from bats to other mammals. We hope that this review will enable readers to identify gaps in knowledge that currently exist and initiate a dialogue amongst bat researchers to share resources to overcome present limitations.
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