A new genetic sample collected at a Chinese market near where the first human cases of COVID-19 were identified showed raccoon dog DNA mixed in with the virus...
Digital Desk: Over two years after the COVID pandemic, we are still not sure how the SAR-CoV-2 virus originated. There are multiple theories that it originated from a lab or the Wuhan market. But we still don't have a clear picture. However, a new development says otherwise. A new genetic sample collected at a Chinese market near where the first human cases of COVID-19 were identified showed raccoon dog DNA mixed in with the virus, supporting evidence to the theory that the virus originated from animals.
"These data do not provide a definitive answer to how the pandemic began, but every piece of data is important to moving us closer to that answer," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The World Health Organization chastised Chinese officials for withholding scientific research that could uncover the origin of the coronavirus, The New York Times reported. The WHO also questioned the Chinese official on Friday (local time) about the reasons for not disclosing the data three years ago and why, after it was published online in January, it could not be found now.
Before the data got lost in the online world, an international team of virus experts downloaded and started analyzing the research. The evidence backs up the theory that the pandemic began with illegally traded raccoon dogs, which infected people at China's Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
But the team was unable to reach the final result because the gene sequences were removed from a scientific database after the experts offered to cooperate on the analysis with their Chinese counterparts, according to The New York Times.
"These data could have — and should have — been shared three years ago," Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said. "The missing evidence now "needs to be shared with the international community immediately," he added.
According to the expert team that was reviewing the data, the research provides evidence that raccoon dogs, fox-like animals known to spread coronaviruses, had left behind DNA in the same Wuhan market where genetic signatures of the new coronavirus were found.
According to some experts, this discovery implies that the animals were infected and may have transmitted the virus to humans. The genetic data, which was drawn from swabs of animal cages, carts, and other surfaces at the Wuhan market in early 2020, had been the focus of restless anticipation among virus experts since they heard of it a year ago in a paper by Chinese scientists, reported The New York Times.
It's unknown how the coronavirus got started. Many scientists believe it most likely spread from animals to humans at a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, as many other viruses have in the past. However, Wuhan is home to several labs engaged in collecting and studying coronaviruses, fueling scientists' theories that the virus may have leaked from one of them.
Meanwhile, a French biologist found the genetic sequences in the database last week, and her team started mining for information about the pandemic's origins. That team has yet to publish a paper detailing their results. But the researchers presented an analysis of the material to a WHO advisory group investigating Covid's origins this week in a meeting that also included a presentation by Chinese researchers regarding the same data.
According to Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, the analysis appears to diverge from what China has presented.
According to Cobey, who was not involved in the latest analysis, the findings appeared to contradict previous claims by Chinese scientists that samples taken in the market that were positive for the coronavirus had been ferried in by sick people alone, The New York Times reported.
"It’s just very unlikely to be seeing this much animal DNA, especially raccoon dog DNA, mixed in with viral samples if it’s simply mostly human contamination," Dr Cobey said.
Questions remain about how the samples were obtained, what they held, and why the evidence had disappeared. Many scientists reacted cautiously in light of the ambiguities, stating that it was difficult to evaluate the study without seeing the entire report.
The possibility that a lab accident unintentionally triggered the pandemic has sparked renewed interest in recent weeks, owing in part to a new intelligence assessment from the Department of Energy and hearings led by the new Republican House leadership.
But a number of virus specialists who were not involved in the newest analysis said what was known about the swabs collected in the market bolstered the case that animals sold there had sparked the pandemic, as per The New York Times report. "It’s exactly what you’d expect if the virus was emerging from intermediate or multiple intermediate hosts in the market," Dr Cobey said, adding, "I think ecologically, this is close to a closed case."
Dr. Cobey was one of 18 scientists who signed an influential letter published in the journal Science in May 2021, urging serious examination of a scenario in which the virus could have split from a Wuhan laboratory.