New study cites Wuhan raccoon dogs as possible origin of COVID-19

A new analysis of genetic information by an international group of researchers has found evidence to suggest that COVID-19 originated from infected animals sold at a market in Wuhan, China.

As The Atlantic first reported, French evolutionary biologist Florence Débarre recently discovered genetic data from the global virus database GISAID. The data was submitted by Chinese researchers who collected the genetic sequences from the wholesale seafood market in Huanan, which was considered to be the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite its name, thousands of mammals were sold at the market, where they were kept in cramped and unsanitary spaces.

Genetic data suggests that raccoon dogs sold on the market could have carried and shed the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the time. The analysis, which is not conclusive, is conducted by researchers Kristian Andersen, Edward Holmes and Michael Worobey.

In communications with Atlantic writer Katherine J. Wu, Andersen said they don’t know if raccoon dogs are the immediate hosts for the virus to infect humans, but said they are listed “up” on his list of potential hosts, among others.

These results, which have not been published, were presented on Tuesday to the World Health Organization (WHO) Scientific Advisory Group on the origins of new pathogens. The journal Science noted that the research submitted to GISAID has since been deleted at the request of the original authors.

This new evidence further fuels the ongoing debate over laboratory leaks versus natural origins, which recently gained further momentum with the US Department of Energy’s finding that COVID-19 originated in a research lab. Chinese.

Proponents of the lab leak theory have fervently argued that it cannot be a coincidence that COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan, near the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where research on coronaviruses were being conducted.

However, opponents of this theory argue that there is not enough evidence to suggest there was a lab leak and also point out that previous coronavirus outbreaks have had confirmed animal sources.

Consensus on the origins of COVID-19 is far from reached, and some researchers wonder if a conclusive answer will ever be offered, especially with China’s continued resistance to providing additional data.

In its 2021 report on the potential origins of COVID-19, the WHO likely gave credence to the animal transmission theory, pointing to bats or mink as possible reservoirs of the disease. The organization said at the time that more information about Huanan Market’s supply chain would be needed.

Tracing the origins of a virus often takes years, but previous efforts go back to animal origins. Researchers have linked human infections of MERS, a virus in the coronavirus family that was first reported in 2012, to interactions with infected camels.

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