Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, its origin has kept researchers puzzled. Now, an international team of experts has found evidence suggesting that the virus might have spread from infected raccoon dogs being illegally sold at a seafood market in China’s Wuhan, reported The New York Times.
The team collected genetic data from swabs taken from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market and nearby areas in 2020. Researchers took the swabs from floors, walls, carts, and cages used to transport the animals as the market had been closed and animals removed after the outbreak, the report added.
An analysis of the samples, that were found to be infected by the virus, revealed that they carried genetic material of animals including raccoon dogs. While this doesn’t confirm if raccoon dogs were infected and if they transmitted the virus to humans, scientists said the evidence pointed towards a scenario where the virus spread from wild animals.
“This is a really strong indication that animals at the market were infected. There’s really no other explanation that makes any sense,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist who was part of the research, told The Atlantic.
The analysis was led by three prominent researchers namely Kristian Andersen, Michael Worobey, and Edward Holmes.
The genetic data was posted by Chinese researchers on GISAID, an open-access genomic database. It was then downloaded and analysed by scientists from North America, Australia, and Europe. The Chinese researchers, who uploaded the data, had already examined the samples. But their study stated that “no animal host of SARS-CoV-2 can be deduced”. The analysis suggested that the virus found at the market could have been brought by an infected human and not a wild animal being sold there, the report said.
The fresh analysis of the samples carrying the virus, meanwhile, found animal genetic material matching that of a common raccoon dog. According to Alex Crits-Christoph, a computational biologist, the genetic data was “tangible”. He added, “And this is the species that everyone has been talking about”.
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