A new study has shown that COVID was caused by COID-related illnesses in dogs of the raccoon rat.
International scientists discovered that the dog’s DNA was mixed with the virus in genetic material taken from a market close to where the first human cases in China were found in late 2019.
The samples were taken from the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan in the early 2020s. China recently uploaded the genetic sequences to the largest public virus database in the world.
These sequences were removed, but not before a French biologist noticed the information by accident and shared it to a group of scientists from outside China who were investigating the origins of the coronavirus.
Some samples were positive for the Coronavirus. However, some of the samples also contained genetic material from raccoon dog breeds, which suggests that the animals might have been infected with the virus.
The US Energy Department stated last month that the virus had most likely been released from a Wuhan laboratory.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, stated that the most recent data does not give a definitive answer to how the pandemic started but said that “every piece is important in moving us closer towards that answer”.
The WHO criticised China’s inability to share genetic information earlier, and stated that it should have been made available three years ago.
International groups also reported to the WHO that they had found DNA from other animals and raccoon dogs in samples taken from the seafood market.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID technical leader, stated that there is molecular evidence that animals were sold on Huanan markets.
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Stephen Goldstein, a University of Utah virologist, was involved in the analysis of the data. He said that there is a good possibility that the DNA from the animals that have deposited it also contains the virus.
Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease expert at the University of Edinburgh said that if the analysis shows that the animal viruses are older than those that infect people, that is “probably as good evidence that we can expect” that there was a spillover event on the market.
The WHO published a report in 2021 after a long visit to China to investigate the origins of the pandemic. It concluded that COVID most likely jumped to humans from animal origins.
The UN health agency retracted its position the next year, stating that “key pieces” of data were still missing. In recent months, Tedros stated that all hypotheses were still on the table.
China CDC scientists previously analysed market samples and published a paper in February as a preprint. It suggested that humans brought the virus onto the market and not animals, implying that COVID originated elsewhere.
Gao Fu, the former head Chinese CDC and the lead author of the Chinese paper, said that the sequences were “nothing new”, and it had been known for some time there was illegal animal trading. This is why the market was shut down immediately.