International scientists examining hitherto inaccessible genetic data from samples collected at a market in Chinanear where the first human cases of COVID-19reported that they found indications that the pandemic originated in animals, not in a laboratory.
Other experts have not yet verified the analysis, which has also not appeared in peer-reviewed publications so far. It is not known for sure how the coronavirus began to affect humans.
“These data do not give a definitive answer to how the pandemic began, but each one is important to get us closer to that answer.”, declared the director general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on Friday.
Tedros criticized China for not previously disclosing genetic information. “This data could and should have been released three years ago,” she said.
The samples were collected from surfaces at the Huanan Seafood Market in wuhanafter the first human cases of COVID-19 appeared in late 2019.
Tedros said that the genetic sequences were uploaded into the database of virus largest in the world by scientists from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The data has since been removed from the database.
A French biologist found the information by chance while going through the database and showed it to a group of scientists outside of China who were looking for the origins of the coronavirus.
Genetic sequencing data revealed that some of the samples, known to be positive for the coronavirus, also contained genetic material from Japanese raccoons, indicating that the animals were infected with the virus, according to the scientists. The first reports on the analyzes appeared in The Atlantic magazine.
“There is a good chance that the animals that deposited the DNA also deposited the virus,” said Stephen Goldstein, a virologist at the University of Utah who was involved in the data analysis. “If one were to do environmental sampling after a zoonotic spill event… this is exactly what you would expect to find.”.
Ray Yip, an epidemiologist and founding member of the US Centers for Disease Control office in China, said the new findings were not definitive, but significant.
“Environmental market sampling data released by the China CDC is by far the strongest evidence yet supporting animal originYip told the AP in an email. He had no relation to the new analysis.
Scientists look for origins of the COVID-19 pandemic since the virus appeared, but the search has been hampered by several factors, including the huge increase in human infections in the first two years of the pandemic and a bitter international political dispute.
It took experts more than 12 years to confirm the animal origin of SARS, a virus related to COVID. The researchers say their analysis is the first concrete indication that wildlife infected with the coronavirus may have been on the market. Some of the Japanese raccoon DNA samples were collected from a stall that tested positive for COVID-19 and was known to be involved in the wildlife trade.
However, it is also possible that humans were the first to bring the virus to market and infected the Japanese raccoons, or that infected people left traces of the virus near the animals.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19, according to the WHO, is the disease caused by the new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. The existence of this new virus was first reported on December 31, 2019, after being informed of a group of cases of “viral pneumonia” that had been declared in Wuhan (People’s Republic of China).
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