Raccoon dogs have been linked to the origins of COVID in a new study suggesting the pandemic may have originated in animals, not a lab leak.
International scientists have identified the dogs’ DNA mixed with the virus from genetic material collected from a market near where the first human cases were detected in China in late 2019.
Samples were taken in early 2020 from surfaces in the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan and the genetic sequences were recently uploaded by China to the world’s largest public virus database.
The footage was later deleted, but not before a French biologist spotted the information by chance and shared it with a group of scientists based outside China, who were researching the origins of the coronavirus.
The data showed that some samples, which were known to be positive for coronavirusalso contained genetic material from raccoon dogs, indicating the animals may have been infected with the virus, experts said.
Last month, the US Department of Energy said the virus most likely leaked from a lab in Wuhan.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the latest data findings do not provide a definitive answer on how the pandemic started, but said “every piece of data is important to us. closer to this answer”.
The WHO criticized China for not sharing the genetic information sooner and said it should have been provided three years ago.
The international group also told the WHO that it found DNA from other animals as well as raccoon dogs in the seafood market samples.
“There is molecular evidence that animals were sold in the Huanan market and this is new information,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID technical officer.
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Stephen Goldstein, a virologist at the University of Utah who helped analyze the data, said: “There is a good chance that the animals that deposited this DNA also deposited the virus.”
And Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease expert at the University of Edinburgh, said that while analysis shows animal viruses have older origins than those that have infected people, “that’s probably the best evidence that we can expect this to be an overflow event in the market”.
After a week-long visit to China to study the origins of the pandemic, the WHO published a report in 2021 concluding that COVID most likely passed to humans from animals, ruling out the possibility of a laboratory origin like “extremely unlikely”.
But the UN health agency backtracked the following year, saying “key pieces of data” were still missing. And in recent months, Mr. Tedros has said that all assumptions remain on the table.
Chinese CDC scientists, who had previously analyzed market samples, published a preprint paper in February suggesting that humans brought the virus to the market, not animals – implying that the COVID originated elsewhere.
Gao Fu, the former head of China’s CDC and lead author of the Chinese paper, told Science Magazine that the footage was “nothing new, it was known that there was illegal animal trafficking and c that’s why the market was immediately closed.”