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COVID-19 Origins Tied to Raccoon Market in China

Raccoon (Procyon lotor) in the Central Park Ramble
Raccoon (Procyon lotor) in the Central Park Ramble. New research sheds light on COVID-19 origins tied to the Raccoon market in China. Credit: Rhododendrites / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientists claim that a new set of genetic information collected from a live food market in Wuhan supports the idea that raccoon dogs might have contributed to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the new research, COVID-19 origins can be tied to the raccoon market in China.

Researchers involved in the work suggest that the virus might have been transmitted to humans through infected animals sold at the market.

Samples were gathered from the Huanan seafood market two months after it closed on January 1st, 2020, and tests revealed that the samples contained both COVID-19 and human DNA.

When the results were published last year, Chinese researchers declared that the samples did not contain any animal DNA.

A recent study overturns the previous claim

A team of scientists from different countries has recently challenged the previous statement made by Chinese researchers that there was no animal DNA found in COVID-19 samples taken from the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan.

The scientists analyzed gene sequences posted by the Chinese team on the scientific database Gisaid, and discovered that some of the COVID-19-positive samples contained a significant amount of raccoon dog DNA, along with traces of DNA from other mammals, including civets.

On March 4, Florence Débarre, an evolutionary biologist from the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, discovered some important data that she had put aside.

However, upon logging in last week, she found new data that had been eagerly awaited by virus experts since the original study was published, according to New York Times.

Débarre promptly informed an international team of researchers, including Michael Worobey from the University of Arizona, Kristian Andersen from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney in Australia. The team started examining the data last week, as reported by The Times.

“We were able to figure out relatively quickly that at least in one of these samples, there was a lot of raccoon dog nucleic acid, along with virus nucleic acid,” Stephen Goldstein, Ph.D., a University of Utah virologist who worked on the new analysis, told The Times.

No definitive answer, says WHO

During a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, the WHO Director-General, stated that data had been brought to their attention on Sunday relating to samples taken at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan in the early stages of the pandemic.

During the meeting, international scientists analyzed the findings from the data, which they had accessed before it was removed, and presented their results. Officials from the Chinese CDC were also in attendance, having been invited by the WHO.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu cautioned that the data presented does not provide a definitive answer to the pandemic’s origins. However, he emphasized that every piece of information, no matter how small, is vital in moving closer to understanding the outbreak’s origins.

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