New data linking Covid-19 to raccoon dogs in a Wuhan wet market provides “important incremental evidence” supporting the hypothesis that the virus originated in wildlife, according to a scientist who has studied the genesis of the pandemic in China.
(Bloomberg) — New data linking Covid-19 to raccoon dogs in a Wuhan wet market provides “important incremental evidence” supporting the hypothesis that the virus originated in wildlife, according to a scientist who has studied the genesis of the pandemic in China.
A new analysis of samples collected in January 2020 at the Huanan market in downtown Wuhan, where many of the early Covid cases emerged, found genetic evidence of the virus with large amounts of raccoon dog DNA, The Atlantic and New York Times reported this week. That’s a strong indication that the mammals, reportedly sold live in the food market and known to be susceptible to coronaviruses, were infected, said Dominic Dwyer, a medical virologist and infectious diseases physician.
“It’s not the ‘eureka’ moment, but it’s a pretty big advance,” said Dwyer, who was part of the joint mission to study Covid’s origins led by the World Health Organization in early 2021. The material was collected in an area of the market where cases were known to have occurred, he said in an interview Friday.
“It still doesn’t tell you how did it get into a raccoon dog, or how did it get into a human, but it’s important circumstantial evidence,” said Dwyer, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Sydney.
The new findings advance efforts to decipher the deadly contagion’s creation story, which have been frustrated by a geopolitical blame game. Some groups, including the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, support the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a Chinese lab. The latest data shifts the weight of evidence firmly in favor of an animal origin, Dwyer said.
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Genomic data from samples taken from the market were submitted to GISAID, a global scientific consortium that maintains a database of coronavirus sequences, by Chinese scientists last week. The researchers concluded last year in a draft of a study that there was no evidence of infected animals, but other non-Chinese scientists analyzing the same data discovered that several market samples testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 also had animal genetic material, much of which was a match for the common raccoon dog, the Atlantic reported.
The records initially submitted by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention are currently being updated with newer, additional data as part of review of the manuscript that’s been submitted for publication, GISAID said in a statement.
Studies that Dwyer and his colleagues recommended be undertaken in China to understand how, where and when Covid-19 emerged have stalled and may now be too late to yield definitive answers, he said.
Asked for comment on the latest findings, China said only that it would continue to cooperate in global origins tracing studies.
“In the global science community, there are many clues pointing to multiple origins of the virus,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Friday. “We hope information could be shared with China on the outcomes of origins studies across the world.”
–With assistance from Philip Glamann.
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