New clues to the origin of the coronavirus

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According to Berlin-based virologist Christian Drosten, preliminary results of a genetic study support the assumption of a natural origin of Sars-CoV-2. The analysis, which has not yet been independently verified, implicates tanuki in Wuhan, China, as potential carriers of the coronavirus. According to The Atlantic magazine, scientists had come across previously unknown Chinese data from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.

This market is associated with the first Corona outbreak. He said the genetic sequences were obtained from swabs taken at and near market stalls at the beginning of the pandemic. They had been posted to the open-access genome database “Gisaid” a few days ago by researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They were discovered and analyzed – virtually by accident – by scientists in Europe, North America and Australia. “The preliminary result strongly supports my suspicion, expressed since the beginning of the pandemic, of an origin in tanuki or other carnivores (meat eaters) such as creeping cats,” Drosten announced Friday.

A comprehensive study to follow
An evaluation led by virus experts Kristian Andersen, Edward Holmes, and Michael Worobey showed, according to The Atlantic, that several market samples that tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 also contained animal genetic material – in many cases from tanuki, a fox relative commonly kept on fur farms. Based in part on how the samples were collected, the scientists conclude that a tanuki infected with the coronavirus may have been at the affected sites.

“These are preliminary evaluations of Chinese raw data. A comprehensive study by the scientists actually involved in the investigation will certainly follow soon,” Drosten stated. The new findings are likely to reignite the debate over the origin of the coronavirus. There is also the theory of a laboratory mishap as a possible origin.

The theory that the coronavirus jumped from wild animals to humans in 2019, traded on the Wuhan market, has been around since the beginning of the pandemic. One reason was the existing knowledge about the first Sars virus, where this was the case, Drosten explained. “Of course, any theories about the origin of the virus must be taken seriously, but a natural origin from one of the animal groups mentioned was the most likely explanation from the beginning.”

The fact that the viral and mammalian genetic material now analyzed was so closely mixed – enough to be extracted from a single swab – is not perfect evidence. Emory University virologist Seema Lakdawala is quoted as saying in The Atlantic. She said that it is an important step but does not have the same value as if Sars-CoV-2 had been detected directly from a raccoon dog or in the virus sample from a mammal sold in Wuhan at the time of the outbreak.

Criticism of information policy
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday, “These data do not provide us with a definitive answer to the question of how the pandemic started, but any information is important in getting closer to that answer.”

The WHO chief criticized China’s information policy. “This data could have been made available three years ago, and it should have been. We again call on China to be transparent by making data available, and we call on China to do the necessary research and report the results.”

Data no longer accessible
China has already deleted the temporarily available material on “Gisaid” in the meantime – why one must ask the Chinese CDC, said Corona expert Maria van Kerkhove in Geneva. According to her, the data prove that tanuki was traded on the market. This had been assumed before but never confirmed. It remains open where the animals came from, whether farm or wild. It should also be emphasized, he said, that the virus was not detected in any animal itself.

“It is a bit surprising that these data have only now been collected,” Fabian Leendertz of the Helmholtz Institute for One Health in Greifswald also shared. He said that examining environmental samples for the genetic material of animals in the relevant area is actually a routine procedure. “What’s missing now is to look further back – are there still infected intermediate hosts? Where did the tanuki (or other susceptible animals traded there) possibly get the virus?”

  • source: kleinezeitung.at/picture: pixabay.com
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