Bats are not to blame: scientists believe that COVID-19 started because of raccoon dogs in a market in Wuhan - ForumDaily
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Bats are not to blame: scientists believe that COVID-19 started because of raccoon dogs in a market in Wuhan

Recently released genetic data collected at a food market in Wuhan, China, links COVID-19 to raccoon dogs. This adds credibility to the theory that infected animals sold at the location caused the coronavirus disease pandemic, the researchers say. Writes about it The Guardian.

Photo: IStock

Previously, swabs taken from stalls at the Huanan Seafood Market within two months of its closing on January 1, 2020 were found to contain both COVID-19 and human DNA. When the results were published last year, the Chinese researchers said the samples contained no animal DNA.

This conclusion has now been refuted by an international team of scientists. Their analysis of gene sequences posted by the Chinese team to the Gisaid scientific database showed that some of the COVID-positive samples were rich in raccoon dog DNA. Traces of DNA belonging to other mammals, including civets, were also present in COVID-positive samples.

The discovery does not prove that raccoon dogs or other animals infected with COVID caused the pandemic, but scientists who presented the work to a panel of experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) believe it is becoming more likely.

On the subject: Another US agency is leaning towards the version that COVID-19 'escaped' from a Chinese laboratory

"The data further points to a market origin," said Professor Christian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif. Andersen attended a meeting of the WHO scientific advisory group on the origin of new pathogens and is working on the findings.

The newly uploaded gene sequences were discovered by Florence Debarre, an evolutionary biologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research. She alerted Andersen and Professor Michael Sparrow, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, who have produced papers that support a market-based origin of the pandemic.

What started the worst pandemic in a century has been the subject of intense debate. One theory suggests that the virus originated in wild animals and spread to humans through infection at the market. Another suspects that he "escaped" from the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers are working on similar pathogens.

The lab leak theory has made headlines in recent weeks following an intelligence assessment by the US Department of Energy and hearings over the origins of the pandemic. Concrete evidence is lacking for both theories and may never be found.

The latest genetic data does not prove that raccoon dogs or other mammals were infected with COVID and spread it in the market. If the animals were infected, they could have contracted the virus from infected people. But the results point to the possibility that the cause was an infected animal and, ultimately, the illegal wildlife trade.

While scientists expect the debate to continue, there are questions as to why the Chinese team did not release the genetic data sooner. One of the team members, George Gao, a former head of the China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the sequences are "nothing new."

Debarre said she is working on a report of the results that will be released to the public. She will answer questions only after she does so.

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Dr Jonathan Stoy, virologist and senior team leader at the Francis Crick Institute in London, also shared his opinion: “The discovery of raccoon dogs infected with SARS-CoV-2 strengthens the possibility that coronavirus-infected farm animals were an important link in a series of events that led to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“However, this does not disprove the lab leak theory: it would require demonstrating that such animals were infected prior to their arrival at the Huanan market, which would never be possible,” Stoi said.

The WHO said the COVID-19 pandemic could subside this year, creating a risk similar to that of regular flu.

“I think we are getting to the point where we can look at COVID-19 the same way we look at seasonal flu: a health threat, a virus that will continue to kill, but a virus that is not destroying our society,” Michael Ryan said. , director of emergencies at WHO. “I believe it will happen this year.”

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