Home Tech New coronavirus data has rekindled the debate about the virus’s origins (

New coronavirus data has rekindled the debate about the virus’s origins (


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Coronavirus is back in the news this week. We have seen the revival of a debate that has been raging since the outbreak of the pandemic: Where did the virus that causes covid-19 originate?

The data collected in 2020 and kept secret from the public since then could add weight to the animal theory. It identifies a possible suspect: The raccoon dog. It is not clear how much it adds to your body. The debate has been rekindled by new analyses of the data, which have sparked some serious drama.

The current controversy begins with a February 2022 study that was shared by Chinese scientists. George Gao, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), and his colleagues describe in a preprint (a scientific article that has not yet been peer reviewed or published in a journal) how they collected and analyzed 1,380 samples at the Huanan Seafood Market.

These samples were taken between January 2020 and March 2020, shortly after the market closed. The team stated that coronavirus was not found in the samples, but they also found genetic material from humans.

This market sold more than just seafood, as there were many animals for sale. The Gao paper has a long list of animals, including chickens and ducks, geese as well as doves and badgers, deer, badgers. This list is not complete. There are also reports of other animals being traded there including raccoon dogs. We’ll get back to them later.

Gao and his coworkers reported that they couldn’t find coronavirus among the 18 species of animals they examined. They suggested that the virus was most likely brought to market by humans, which was the epicenter of the outbreak.

Fast forward to March 2023 Florence Debarre (an evolutionary biologist at Sorbonne University, Paris) noticed some genetic data uploaded to GISAID. This website allows researchers to share their genetic data to help them track and study infectious diseases. The data was uploaded in June 2022. It appeared to have been collected by Gao, his colleagues, for their February 2022 study. However, it was not included in the actual paper.

Debarre and her team analyzed the data and found evidence that some of Gao’s samples that were positive for coronavirus had come from areas that housed a variety of animals, including raccoons. The Atlantic published their findings in a report. Debarre and her coworkers have since posted a report detailing their findings at Zenodo’s scientific repository.

“This was a huge deal. It doesn’t prove the presence of infected animals (it doesn’t). It does place animals, including raccoon dogs and other vulnerable species, in the exact spot at which the virus is being sold. “And not with humans,” Angela Rasmussen (a University of Saskatchewan virologist and coauthor of this report), tweeted on March 21.

We now know that raccoon dogs could be infected and spread the virus. The data doesn’t prove that any raccoon dogs on the market were infected with the virus. Even if they did, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were the ones who passed the virus to humans. What does this mean?

Ask a proponent of the laboratory leak theory and they will tell you that it is meaningless. There is no evidence to support the theory that the virus jumped to humans at Huanan Seafood Market or that raccoons were involved.

However, if you ask any of the scientists who believe this marketplace jump from animals is responsible for the coronavirus epidemic in humans, they might say that this strengthens the case. It’s yet another nail in the coffin of the lab leak theory because it provides more convincing evidence that susceptible animals were exposed.

This story has more drama. Debarre and her coworkers claim that they shared their findings with Gao’s team on March 10. Gao’s data vanished from GISAID the next day. Debarre and her colleagues reported their findings to the World Health Organization. The Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) convened two meetings with the WHO to discuss the results of both teams.

SAGO stated in a March 18 statement that although the data does not prove the origin of the virus or the intermediate host, it provides further evidence that susceptible animals were present on the market.

Many are concerned that researchers in China may have hidden their data. Although the preprint shared in 2022 did not mention raccoon dogs however, the data posted to GISAID and photographic evidence suggest that these animals were present on the market before it closed. At a press conference on March 17, Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, WHO director general, stated that Gao’s team’s data could have–and should–been shared three-years ago. “We continue to urge China to share data transparently, conduct investigations and share the results.

Debarre’s group is one of many scientists who publicly ask the CCDC for all their data. Debarre and her coworkers write that the samples were taken at the beginning of 2020, so “an unreasonable amount” of time has passed. Gao and his collaborators are working on a paper which will be submitted to Nature. We might learn more about this paper later.

There’s still drama! Debarre tweeted on March 21 that her access to GISAID had been revoked. This is likely because Debarre and her colleagues shared their analysis of the results from the Chinese team. GISAID released a statement that the Chinese researchers were working on their paper using that data (presumably the Nature one). Any other scientists using this data for their publication would be unfairly “scooping”, the Chinese team. Debarre was granted access again the next day. Debarre asked for an apology from those who “questioned our integrity.”

Rasmussen tweeted, “This isn’t about’scooping.’ It’s about the world’s right to find out how the pandemic which has profoundly disrupted all of our lives began.”

The debate about the origins of covid-19’s virus continues. The US federal agencies aren’t able to agree on their position. While most scientists support the animal theory of the virus, many scientists are open to the possibility that the virus may have escaped from a laboratory.

My money is on an animal leap. It is not only inhumane to keep animals in close contact, but it also creates the perfect environment for spreading disease. It is known that wild animals can be trapped and encroached upon their habitats, increasing the chance of a disease spreading between species. Even if the coronavirus was caused by something else, I hope that we don’t lose sight on the importance of wildlife habitats being protected and the prohibition of trade in wild animals.

You can readListen to it!More from Tech Review’s archive

Antonio Regalado, my colleague, investigated the origins and evolution of the coronavirus that is behind covid-19. In his five-part podcast series, “Curious Coincidence”,

Jane Qiu spoke last year to Shi Zhengli of Wuhan Institute of Virology. Shi, often called “China’s bat lady,” has been at the heart of the controversy surrounding the lab leak theory.

Michael Worobey, University of Arizona, performed the most recent analysis of CCDC data together with Debarre. He signed a letter requesting more investigation into the laboratory leak theory in May 2021. He now believes that the pandemic was caused by a spread of the virus from Huanan Seafood Market animals, as Qiu reported in 2021.

Antonio got the inside scoop from Pfizer about how Paxlovid was developed. An antiviral drug that has been shown to reduce the risk of serious covid cases by 89%.

Others have looked into whether anti-aging drugs could also be used to treat covid. As I reported last year.

From all over the web

Hospitals perform drug tests on pregnant women without their consent. Some have had to miss epidurals and important skin-toskin bonding with newborns due to the results. (New York Magazine)

Can brain stimulation help treat endometriosis pain? Maybe. A small, placebo-controlled study has shown that transcranial current stimulation (tDCS), can reduce the pain perception in people with the disorder. (Pain Medicine)

The internet is flooded with weight-loss injections. However, if all your information comes from influential people, the dangers may not be obvious. (MIT Technology Review)

Marlene Schultz, 47, began to lose her hearing after she was diagnosed with hearing loss. She refused to believe her doctor’s suggestion that loud music was the cause. So, I set out on a quest to find the correct diagnosis. (The Washington Post).

What does a memory look and feel like? Researchers believe that memories could be stored in nucleic acids, and can be read out as a molecular cod. (Neurobiology in Learning and Memory).

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