Chinese Scientists Throw Cold Water on COVID Origin Theory

They say there's still a chance the virus was carried to Wuhan market by humans or products
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2023 8:19 AM CDT
Chinese Scientists Throw Cold Water on COVID Origin Theory
In this file photo dated Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, a convoy of vehicles carrying the World Health Organization team enters the interior of the Huanan Seafood Market on the third day of field visit in Wuhan in central China.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

An analysis of samples from the market in Wuhan by an international group of scientists, offering evidence that COVID-19 jumped from animals to humans there, has sped up the release of another analysis from Chinese government scientists, based on the same data. The early, unedited version of the study, published Wednesday in Nature, stresses the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus' origin. It does confirm raccoon dogs and other animals known to be susceptible to coronavirus were at the market, which has been linked to a cluster of early human cases. But it also claims genetic material of animals not known to be there, including pandas and chimpanzees, was found, per the New York Times.

That suggests the authors made mistakes in categorizing the genetic material or else contaminated samples in the lab, conservation biologist Alice Hughes of the University of Hong Kong tells the Times, adding "the analysis has not been done in a way that's careful enough to have confidence in any of the results." The international team identified genetic material from animals, namely the raccoon dog, in the same places as virus samples. They said this was the strongest evidence yet that the virus had jumped from animals to people at the market. The Chinese scientists, many of whom are affiliated with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, are much more cautious.

"The possibility of potential introduction of the virus to the market through infected humans, or cold chain products, cannot be ruled out yet," the study reads, per the Telegraph. Many scientists doubt that the virus arrived at the market on products like frozen food but "China has promoted it because it gives credence to the idea that the pandemic could have started outside of the country," per the Times. Alexander Crits-Christoph of Johns Hopkins University, author of the international study, suggests new data included with the report, including on the number of samples taken from each market stall, reinforce his theory, showing samples taken from a part of the market where wild animals were sold were more likely to test positive for the virus. (More COVID-19 stories.)

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