An international team of scientists say they have found genetic data that links the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic to raccoon dogs that were sold at a wet market in Wuhan, bolstering the theory of many experts that the pandemic had a natural origin.
According to a summary of the findings reported by the Atlantic, the genetic data in question was extracted from swabs taken from in and around Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at the start of the pandemic.
Analysis of the data shows that raccoon dogs, which were being sold illegally at the market, may have been “carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019,” the report added.
This finding is one of the strongest pieces of genetic evidence linking an animal being sold at the wet market to the coronavirus that caused the pandemic.
The findings, however, do not definitively prove that raccoon dogs carried the virus or it passed from them into humans and it also does not rule out the possibility of other animals at the wet market having the virus.
The genetic evidence sequenced by scientists from Europe, North America, and Australia is based on raw data of swabs taken from the market, which was quietly uploaded to a global database by researchers affiliated to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention last week.
The raw data eventually was removed from the database known as GISAID after the international scientists sequencing the genomic data reached out to the Chinese scientists, who uploaded it and offered to collaborate, the New York Times reported.
These findings are likely to bolster the argument that the Covid pandemic had a natural origin and is likely linked to illegal wildlife trade in China’s wet markets. Last month, reports emerged that the U.S. Department of Energy now believes with “low confidence” that the coronavirus leaked from a lab. This once again rekindled debate about the pandemic’s origins, with the new Republican House leadership backing the lab leak theory in a series of hearings. Despite the DOE’s assessment garnering great interest, it is only one of two federal agencies to back the lab leak theory—the Federal Bureau of Investigation being the other. The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Intelligence Council and four other unnamed intelligence agencies all support the natural origin theory. The Central Intelligence Agency and an unnamed agency remain undecided.
The Chinese government has expressed vehement opposition to the lab leak theory, and has even accused the U.S. of politicizing efforts to trace the pandemic’s origin. Despite this, Beijing is unlikely to embrace the new genetic evidence, as it has also dismissed arguments that illegal wildlife trade within the country’s wet markets may have given rise to the virus. The Chinese government has instead tried to push the narrative that the virus likely originated outside its borders and entered China through frozen foods. Chinese scientists who had published an analysis last year based on the same raw data collected from the Wuhan market concluded the virus traces had come from people shopping and working at the market, not the animals being sold there. Scientists have criticized Chinese authorities for their refusal to cooperate with independent studies into the pandemic’s origins.
The Strongest Evidence Yet That an Animal Started the Pandemic (The Atlantic)
New Data Links Pandemic’s Origins to Raccoon Dogs at Wuhan Market (New York Times)
Unearthed genetic sequences from China market may point to animal origin of COVID-19 (Science Magazine)
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