- Evidence suggests COVID-19 might have spread from infected raccoon dogs sold illegally at a Wuhan seafood market.
- Genetic data from swabs taken from the market and surrounding areas indicate animals at the market were infected.
- The findings add weight to the theory that the virus may have spread from wild animals.
According to a report by The New York Times, an international team of experts has discovered evidence indicating that the COVID-19 virus might have spread from infected raccoon dogs that were illegally sold at a seafood market in Wuhan, China. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, researchers have been trying to determine the origin of the virus, and the new findings have added weight to the theory that the virus might have spread from wild animals.
To collect genetic data, researchers took swabs from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market and the surrounding areas in 2020. The swabs were taken from various surfaces such as floors, walls, carts, and cages that were used to transport the animals. After analyzing the samples, the researchers found that they were infected with the virus and carried genetic material from animals such as raccoon dogs.
The evidence does not conclusively prove that raccoon dogs were infected or that they transmitted the virus to humans, but it does suggest that the virus might have spread from wild animals at the market. “This is a really strong indication that animals at the market were infected. There’s really no other explanation that makes any sense,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist who was part of the research, in an interview with The Atlantic.
The analysis of the genetic data was conducted by three renowned researchers, namely Kristian Andersen, Michael Worobey, and Edward Holmes.
The Chinese researchers made the genetic data available on GISAID, an open-access genomic database. Subsequently, scientists from North America, Europe, and Australia downloaded and analyzed the data. The Chinese researchers, who had previously examined the samples, concluded that it was not possible to deduce any animal host of SARS-CoV-2. However, the analysis carried out by the international scientists suggested that the virus found in the market could have been brought by an infected human and not a wild animal sold there, as per the report.
Furthermore, the new analysis of the virus samples revealed that the animal genetic material matched that of a common raccoon dog. According to Alex Crits-Christoph, a computational biologist, the genetic data was “tangible”. He further added that this was the species that had been widely discussed.