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We call on China to be transparent about data sharing. What role did the raccoon dog play in the COVID-19 pandemic?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to solve the mystery of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. According to recently revealed data, Asian raccoon dogs that were present at the Wuhan market – the cradle of the threat that paralyzed the world – may have played a role in the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO has urged China to share all information about the development of the disease.

Advisors to the World Health Organization (WHO) called on China on Saturday to release all information related to the genesis of the coronavirus pandemic. The order came after reports that raccoon dogs infected with the coronavirus were present at a market in Wuhan, which is believed to be the birthplace of this global threat (Nyctereutes procyonoides).

“We continue to call on China to be transparent about data sharing, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

How have raccoon dogs been linked to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The team of the former head of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), George Gao, collected samples from the stalls of the Wuhan market between January 1, 2020, the day it closed, and March 2, 2020. Last year, results were published confirming that some of the samples infected with SARS-CoV-2 had human genetic material in them, but no animal material was mentioned.

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The team surmised that humans brought the virus to the market, which was the first major spread of the virus. According to some Chinese scientists and officials, this scenario suggested a foreign origin of the virus. The data also attracted the attention of supporters of the hypothesis of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 from a laboratory in Wuhan.

French on the trail

Florence Débarre of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) recently discovered data linking the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic with Asian raccoon dogs from January to March 2020. She succeeded because hitherto unknown genetic sequences were “silently” entered into the GISAID virology database. Débarre was lucky because the data was subsequently deleted.

Débarre forwarded the discovered data to researchers who favored the “animal” hypothesis of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 – Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research and Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona. Researchers found traces of DNA and RNA from raccoon dogs in the infected samples (Nyctereutes procyonoides) – these mammals were sold at a market in Wuhan. The virus was also in the genetic material of other small mammals.

“The data seems to support the food market hypothesis,” Andersen explained. However, the researchers noted that it is impossible to reject other theories at this stage of the analysis.

Doubts and hypotheses

The discovery of hitherto unknown data caused a rift in the scientific community. It is doubtful why the Chinese team did not make the full data public when it began to have them.

“This is newly analyzed data and nothing new,” Gao said when asked by Science for comment. He added that it was GISAID that removed the information, not the scientists. ‘All of this should be left to scientists to work out, not journalists or the public.’ We would love to know the answer, he added.

Andersen added that the new data is unlikely to convince everyone that the virus came from a market. He suspects that some may interpret the new information in such a way that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 transferred the virus to animals at the market. Meanwhile, his team is trying to convince the China CDC to hand over the full dataset.

“We’re scientists, we can work together on this,” he said.

Samples were tested

“These data do not give a definitive answer to how the pandemic started, but every bit of data is important in bringing us closer to that answer,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adding, “these data could – and should have – been made available three years ago.” .

Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)Shutterstock

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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