Coronavirus strains are maintained in quasi-species pools circulating in bat populations. (a,b) Traditional SARS-CoV emergence theories posit that host-range mutants (red circle) represent random and rare occurrences that permit infection of alternative hosts. The secondary-host paradigm (a) argues that a nonhuman host is infected by a bat progenitor virus and, through adaptation, facilitates transmission to humans; subsequent replication in humans leads to the epidemic viral strain. The direct paradigm (b) suggests that transmission occurs between bats and humans without the requirement of an intermediate host; selection then occurs in the human population with closely related viruses replicating in a secondary host, permitting continued viral persistence and adaptation in both. (c) The data from chimeric SARS-like viruses argue that the quasi-species pools maintain multiple viruses capable of infecting human cells without the need for mutations (red circles). Although adaptations in secondary or human hosts may be required for epidemic emergence, if SHC014 spike–containing viruses recombined with virulent CoV backbones (circles with green outlines), then epidemic disease may be the result in humans. Existing data support elements of all three paradigms.