Newly Found Clues Link Origin Of COVID Outbreak To Animals

Raccoon dog foraging in forest and showing camouflage colours.

Photo: Getty Images

Newly discovered data suggests that the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic may be linked to animals.

The World Health Organization called on Chinese health authorities to release genetic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 that were recently deleted less than a month after being posted to the GISAID database by China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Associated Press reports. The database serves as a platform for global scientists to share and obtain genetic sequencing and other data, which has been necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These data do not provide a definitive answer to how the pandemic began, but every piece of data is important to moving us closer to that answer,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a Friday press briefing via the Associated Press.

The recently deleted data included samples that were taken from the Huanan animal market in Wuhan, which has long been pinned as the potential epicenter for the global outbreak by both U.S. and Chinese authorities as the location where the first known human cases of coronavirus were found in late 2019. A French biologist noticed the information and shared it before it was removed by Chinese authorities.

The data showed that COVID-positive samples were collected from a stall that has typically been the site for wildlife trade, which contained the genes of raccoon dogs, which are animals that are known to be prone to SARS-CoV-2, according to scientists, as initially reported by 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 was involved in analyzing the data, via the AP. “If you were to go and do environmental sampling in the aftermath of a zoonotic spillover event … this is basically exactly what you would expect to find.”

The canines, which get their name from their facial similarities to raccoons, are typically bred from their fur and sold for meat in animal markets throughout China, such as Huanan, according to the AP.

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