Data released by Chinese scientists leaves ‘clues on origins’, Researchers
After a Reuters report claimed Chinese scientists uploaded research on the origins of Covid-19 on an online database and then deleted it, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin claimed China has “always supported” the “global scientific cooperation on origin tracking”.
According to reports, data collected in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was briefly uploaded to a database by Chinese scientists and could help to understand the origins of the virus, including links to how it could have transferred to humans from animals. Apart from greatly damaging China’s live animal market, the coronavirus which was initially identified in the Wuhan region as far back as 2019, led to the deaths of almost seven million people worldwide.
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Last week, researchers published a pre-print report on their interpretation of the available data, after the findings had been leaked in the media. Meanwhile, after a meeting between officials of the World Health Organization (WHO) with Chinese and other scientists, the WHO has urged researchers to share more information in connection with the pandemic.
According to international researchers who accessed the data, it includes information on the new sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as additional genomic data on the samples collected from China’s Huanan market in Wuhan as early as 2020. The sequences highlighted that animals including raccoon dogs and others that are ‘susceptible’ to the coronavirus were present in the market, alleging reasons on how the animals may have been infected. This latest break provides new clues in the chain of transmission, the researchers argued.
The report argues, “This adds to the body of evidence identifying the Huanan market as the spillover location of Sars-CoV-2 and the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic”. Moreover, the data collected by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was uploaded to the GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data). Since March 11, however, the data is no longer available on the global database. Issuing a statement on the matter, the GISAID said that it was “temporarily invisible” to ensure that it was updated ahead of the paper’s publication as is normal practice.
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The report authors Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona, Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research in La Jolla, and Florence Debarre at the Sorbonne University in Paris were among those who accessed the data. Speaking with Reuters, Florence Debarre said, “Other raw sequencing data from environmental samples from the Huanan market exist and could contain further clues”. However, no comment has been made by the Chinese CDC.
On the other hand, when Reuters questioned the disappearance of the data, the Spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin said that they should refer to the “relevant authorities”. Wang added that China has also remained in support of “global scientific cooperation on origin tracing”. The spokesperson added that China would continue its pursuits to further such global cooperation, adding that the international community must also share “their research on the virus originating from other regions”.
Moreover, the data released last week showed more animal genetic material which researchers have confirmed was consistent with the animals being infected.
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