Newly released genetic data from the wet market near where scientists discovered the first human cases of COVID-19 has shown raccoon-dog DNA blended with the virus.
According to The Atlantic, one of the first outlets to report the findings, the data from the end of 2019 — when the first COVID-19 cases started to emerge — show that some of the COVID-positive samples collected from a stall known to be involved in the wildlife trade also contained raccoon dog genes.
This suggests that the virus may have infected the animals, according to the scientists.
The data has not been formally reviewed nor has it been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, has said the data does not provide “a definitive answer to how the pandemic began, but every piece of data is important to moving us closer to that answer.”
However, international health experts have said that this finding adds credence to the theory that the COVID-19 virus came from animals instead of a lab leak.
The Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which also offered exotic game and wild animals for sale, has been at the center of scientific suspicion as the original source of COVID-19.
The Chinese team collected environmental samples from the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, according to Florence Débarre, a theoretician who specializes in evolutionary biology and works at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, or CNRS, a French national-research agency, unearthed the data, according to Science.
Speaking to Kristian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist with Scripps Research who analyzed the data, said that “the data does point even further to a market origin.”
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist involved in the research, told the Atlantic that “this is a really strong indication that animals at the market were infected.”
“This really strengthens the case for a natural origin,” Seema Lakdawala, a virologist at Emory University, said.
The DNA is from raccoon dogs, small vulpine animals native to East Asia.
This data is not new, but the genetic sequence was recently uploaded to the world’s GISAID database by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and later removed, Ghebreyesus said.
While it was online, scientists downloaded and began analyzing the data.
Tedros has slammed China for not sharing the data earlier. “This data could have and should have been shared three years ago,” he said.
“We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results. Understanding how the pandemic began remains both a moral and scientific imperative,” Tedros added.
This is just the latest example of the Chinese government refusing to share data with other nations.
Since the first COVID-19 death — which was recorded in Wuhan, China, on January 11, 2020 — the virus has killed 6,873,477 people around the world, according to WHO data.
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