New genetic data suggests COVID originated from raccoon dogs: ‘Strongest evidence to support animal origins’ so far

Previously unavailable genetic data suggests the COVID pandemic originated from animals, not a lab, in what some experts are calling “by far the strongest evidence to support animal origins.”

After analyzing data from samples collected from the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, an international team of scientists found that raccoon dogs being sold illegally at the market could have been carrying and shedding the virus at the end of 2019.

The head of the World Health Organization acknowledged the findings, saying the information could potentially lead scientists to come to a consensus on the origins of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which has killed nearly 7 million people around the world in just over three years.

“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.

He also criticized China, adding that “this data could have and should have been shared three years ago.”

The samples were collected from surfaces at the market between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 2, 2020, when it was shut down by Chinese authorities.

The genetic sequences were uploaded to the world’s largest public virus database in late January by scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A French scientist spotted the data by chance earlier this month.

Florence Débarre, an evolutionary biologist theoretician who works at the French National Research Agency, came across the information while doing other research on the database on March 4.

She shared the information with two other scientists who are looking into the origin of the coronavirus: Kristian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., and Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona.

The genetic sequencing showed that some of the uploaded samples, which had tested positive for the coronavirus, also contained genetic material from raccoon dogs, the researchers found.

A sign for a Covid-19 testing tent sits along a Manhattan street on March 09, 2023 in New York City.

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While the discovery doesn’t prove the animals triggered the pandemic, the scientists believe it makes it more likely.

“The data does point even further to a market origin,” Andersen told Science magazine.

On Tuesday, the group presented its findings to the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, a panel of experts that advises the WHO on technical and scientific considerations regarding emerging and re-emerging pathogens.

“The market environmental sampling data published by China CDC is by far the strongest evidence to support animal origins,” said Ray Yip, one of the founding members of the U.S. CDC office in China. He was not connected to the analysis.

Last month, the U.S. Energy Department said the virus emerged from a research lab — one of several differing conclusions from the country’s intelligence agencies and experts around the world.

The department’s conclusion was issued with “low confidence.”

With News Wire Services

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