Now, a bunch of investigators in South China Agricultural University at Guangdong suggest the coronavirus' intermediate host could have become the pangolin, an endangered mammal.
The pangolin, a scaly mammalian anteater, is the latest animal to be identified as an intermediate host of the novel coronavirus that has sickened more than 31,000 people worldwide.
Pangolins are among the most traded mammals in Asia, although they are protected under global law because the meat is considered a delicacy in China and the balance is used in traditional medicine, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Animals are kept in small enclosures in close proximity to one another allowing for the spread of pathogens through fluid exchange or aerosolisation.
"The virus was probably unable to infect humans directly through bats, so it had to go through an intermediate animal to further mutate in order to infect humans".
Health experts think it may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via another species.
The market is an important clue to the traceability of coronavirus.
Recent studies suggested that bats are the ones that sparked the outbreak.
An Asian palm civet at a cage in Kopi luwak farm and farm at Ubud District Bali Indonesia
Last month, a Chinese scientific team stated that mink and snake may be intermediate hosts of the disease.
Some academics are skeptical about the result of the research.
"It is highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China", the researchers wrote. The new coronavirus has approximately 29,410 nucleotides, so further analysis is needed to conclude pangolins are a host, she added.
The sequences are 99% similar, the researchers reported at a press conference on 7 February.
"I want the wild animal markets closed", Lipkin said. Whether it can infect humans is now unclear and requires further research, she added. According to Chinese law, people who sell pangolins can be imprisoned for a period of 10 years or more.
Pangolins are a delicacy in the culture of China. Thousands of them are poached every year due to their medicinal value and human consumption in countries like China and Vietnam.
Thousands of pangolins are poached every year.
Meanwhile, amid the coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city Wuhan the country has temporarily banned trading of exotic animals.