Study points to raccoon dogs in the Chinese market as the “origin” of Covid-19

Genetic material collected at a Chinese market near where the first human cases of COVID-19 were identified shows raccoon dog DNA mixed with the virus, suggesting that the pandemic may have originated in animals, not in a laboratory, say international experts.

Other experts have yet to verify their analysis, which has yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal. How the coronavirus began to make people sick remains uncertain.The sequences must match the genetic record how the virus evolved to see which appeared first.

“These data do not provide a definitive answer as to how the pandemic started, but each piece of data is important in getting us closer to that answer,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday.

He criticized China for not sharing genetic information earlier and told a press conference that "this information could and should have been shared three years ago".

Samples were collected from surfaces at the Huanan Seafood Market in early 2020 in Wuhan, where the first human cases of COVID-19 were found in late 2019.

Tedros said that scientists from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently uploaded the genetic sequences. in the world’s largest public virus database.

They were then removed, but not before a French biologist discovered the information by chance and shared it with a group of scientists outside of China investigating the origins of the coronavirus.

The data shows that some of the positive COVID samples collected from a post known to be involved in the trade of wildlife also contained genes from raccoon dogs, indicating that the animals may have been infected by the virus, according to the scientists.Their analysis was first reported in The Atlantic.

“There’s a good chance that the animals that deposited that DNA also deposited the virus,” said Stephen Goldstein, a virologist at the University of Utah who participated in the data analysis."If you were to go and do environmental sampling after a zoonotic spill event… this is basically exactly what you would expect to find".

The canines, named for their raccoon-like faces, are often bred for their fur. and are sold as meat in animal markets throughout China.

Ray Yip, an epidemiologist and founding member of the US Centers for Disease Control office in China, said the findings are significant, though not conclusive.

“The market environmental sampling data released by the China CDC is by far the strongest evidence to support animal origins,” Yip told the AP in an email. He was not connected to the new analysis.

WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove cautioned that the analysis did not find the virus inside any animals, nor did it find any strong evidence that any animal infects humans.

“What this provides are clues to help us understand what might have happened.” said. The international group also told the WHO that they found DNA from other animals, as well as raccoon dogs, in samples from the seafood market, he added.

“There is molecular evidence that animals were sold at the Huanan market and that is new information,” Van Kerkhove said.

The genetic code of the coronavirus is strikingly similar to that of bat coronaviruses, and many scientists suspect that COVID-19 jumped to humans directly from a bat or through an animal intermediary such as pangolins, ferrets, or raccoon dogs.

It took virus experts more than a dozen years to identify the animal origin of SARS, a related virus.

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