New DNA evidence suggests COVID-19 may have started in raccoon dogs

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A raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)

Raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides) have previously been found to be susceptible to and able to transmit SARS-CoV-2

Michael Breuer

The long-running debate over the origins of Covid-19 took another turn this week after a French scientist observed that genetic sequences held by Chinese researchers on a database suggest the coronavirus responsible may have come from the animals. like raccoon dogs in Hunan. Seafood market in Wuhan.

Within days, the sequences were removed by the same researchers – although some other scientists had already managed to download them and are investigating further.

“It is really important that any and all data that is relevant to this pandemic be made available immediately,” maria van kerkhove the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a press conference on 17 March.

“There are many hypotheses that need to be investigated, including how the virus entered the human population, either from a bat, through an intermediate host or through a breach in biosecurity from a laboratory. And we don’t have a definitive answer.”

The Huanan market has long been viewed as a possible origin of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, as many of the first cases of COVID-19 in December 2019 were linked to it and the stalls sold a wide variety. Live and dead animals, not just seafood.

Bats are believed to be the original host of SARS-CoV-2, as they carry many coronaviruses, although they have not yet been found with SARS-CoV-2. The progenitor of this virus may have passed from bats to intermediate hosts sold in the market and then to humans.

An alternative explanation is that the virus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers were known to study bat coronaviruses, but not SARS-CoV-2. While this is a less favorite idea among scientists, in February, the US Department of Energy said it was the most likely explanation, but did not release supporting evidence.

Now, genetic sequences uploaded by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to a global virology database called GISAID may shed more light on the origins of SARS-CoV-2. These sequences were obtained from swabs taken from various surfaces after the market closed in early 2020.

Viewed by Florence Debare at the French National Center for Scientific Research, who shared their findings with the WHO on 14 March. “I was focusing on the market sequences when I logged in, but I didn’t expect the data I found,” says Debrere.

Debrere declined to say anything more until his analysis was complete, but Van Kerkhove said at the press conference: “Of the samples that were positive for SARS-CoV-2, they tested for animal DNA. See the evidence. Some of these animals include raccoon dogs.”

raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoids) have previously been found to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and able to transmit it. “We know they’re good at carrying it,” says Alice Hughes at the University of Hong Kong.

This does not prove, says Hughes, that the raccoon dogs or any other animals on the market were infected with the virus in December 2019, and such evidence is now impossible.

Jonathan Stoye At the Francis Crick Institute in London, says: “The data provides strong evidence that raccoon dogs and other animals were present in the market at a significant time. It is another link in the chain that you would expect to see if the epidemic It kind of started.

Behind the information shared by Debrere, van Kerkhove said the WHO has asked the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to redistribute the genetic data. “The bigger issue is that this data exists and is not readily available to the international community, not to mention that it should have been made available years ago.”


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