New genetic analysis finds clues to animal origin of COVID outbreak

The World Health Organization on Friday called on Chinese health authorities to release the genetic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 that the country recently removed from an international database, after an analysis of the data found. that it has provided new clues that may point to the origin of an animal. Covid-19 global outbreak.

The request comes after a group of scientists outside China analyzed the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that was initially posted late last month. GISAID Database By China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The database is a site where scientists around the world can access and share genetic sequences and other data.

The data comes from samples taken around Wuhan’s Huanan Animal Market in early 2020, which The investigation US and Chinese officials had pointed to this as a possible initial epicenter of the outbreak.

Analysis of these samples found “molecular evidence” of animals such as raccoon dogs in the market that mixed in with the bushes from the same places that caused the release of the virus in the market itself.

Raccoons are a species susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and can potentially act as an intermediate host, transmitting the virus to humans from bats or another source. However, the samples only indicate that both the raccoon dog and the virus were on the market. This is not direct evidence that the species had a carrier.

Raccoon dog - file photo
File photo of a raccoon dog

Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“We need to clarify that the virus has not been identified in any animals on the market or in animal samples from the market, nor have we actually found animals that have infected humans. What it does That provides clues. We understand what might have happened,” WHO’s Maria von Kerkhof told reporters on Friday about the findings.

The new data came on Tuesday as the WHO’s Scientific Advisory Group on the Origin of Novel Pathogens presented its analysis to international scientists, as well as Chinese CDC researchers who initially Data was posted.

It is unclear why China’s CDC later requested the removal of the sequences they originally posted on GISAID last month or why they waited three years to release the data.

“We have been told by GISAID that the China CDC data is being updated and expanded. But again, we have directly requested the China CDC to Make the data completely accessible. And so it’s absolutely fundamental,” said von Kerkhoff.

The data were initially posted by Chinese researchers last year as part of work on a publication initially released as a preprint, he said.

Released by China CDC researchers. A preprint Last year, which is now “under review”, it concluded that the Huanan market “may have acted as an amplifier” for the spread of the virus introduced into the market by humans.

George Gao, lead author of the preprint and former head of the Chinese CDC, played down the significance of the new analysis. To Science Magazine. “It was found that there was illegal trade in animals and that’s why the market was closed immediately,” Gao said.

Gao declined to comment on why the order was initially posted and then taken down, deferring comment to GISAID. GISAID did not immediately return a request for comment.

Questions remain unanswered about the new analysis, which was reported earlier. By the Atlantic Ocean. For example, von Kerkhoff declined to provide additional details about how and which other animals were identified in the sequence analysis, deferring comment to the researchers.

French scientist Florence Debare, named by The Atlantic as the researcher who initially noticed the streak, did not respond to a request for comment.

On TwitterDébarre wrote that he was “not planning to share the findings before our report is complete. Completing the report is my current priority.”

But even if Chinese health officials reposted the sequences removed from GISAID, von Kerkhof cautioned that much more research would be needed to understand whether the origins of COVID-19 could be traced back to marketed products. Can be definitively linked to animals.

“We have repeatedly asked for studies in Wuhan and Hubei and other markets across China. We have repeatedly asked for studies to bring these animals back to their source farms so we can go back in time. can and actually look to see where the animals came from and if any testing was done,” Van Kerkhof said.

While scientists have discovered Evidence that suggests The possibility that COVID-19 was zoonotic in origin — that the virus originated from animals that infect humans, like previous viruses — suggested some elements of the U.S. intelligence community. What is the conclusion? that it is plausible that the pandemic originated from a laboratory accident;

“Based on my initial analysis of the data, I believed, and I still believe today, that this indicates that COVID 19 was the result of an accidental lab leak as a result of a naturally occurring outbreak. “Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, a former administration in the Trump administration, said one Hearing sponsored by House Republicans earlier this month.

In an interview with CBS News on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who helped lead the U.S. response to the pandemic, said it’s possible we may never have a definitive answer to the question of the origin of COVID. could

“There’s really no conclusive evidence,” he said. “We may never know definitively and definitively.”

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