New York Daily News



Previously unavailabl­e genetic data suggest the COVID pandemic originated from animals, not a lab, in what some experts are calling “by far the strongest evidence to support animal origins.”

After analyzing data from samples collected from the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, an internatio­nal team of scientists found that raccoon dogs being sold illegally at the market could have been carrying and shedding the virus at the end of 2019.

The head of the World Health Organizati­on acknowledg­ed the findings, saying the informatio­n could potentiall­y lead scientists to come to a consensus on the origins of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which has killed nearly 7 million people around the world in just over three years.

“These data do not provide a definitive answer to how the pandemic began, but every piece of data is important to moving us closer to that answer,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu­s at a Friday press briefing.

He also criticized China, adding that “this data could have and should have been shared three years ago.”

The samples were collected from surfaces at the market between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 2, 2020, when it was shut down by Chinese authoritie­s.

The genetic sequences were uploaded to the world’s largest public virus database in late January by scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A French scientist spotted the data by chance earlier this month.

Florence Débarre, an evolutiona­ry biology theoretici­an who works at the French National Research Agency, came across the informatio­n while doing other research on the database on March 4.

She shared the informatio­n with two other scientists who are looking into the origin of the coronaviru­s: Kristian Andersen, an evolutiona­ry biologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., and Michael Worobey, an evolutiona­ry biologist at the University of Arizona.

The genetic sequencing showed that some of the uploaded samples, which had tested positive for the coronaviru­s, also contained genetic material from raccoon dogs, the researcher­s found.

While the discovery doesn’t prove the animals triggered the pandemic, the scientists believe it makes it more likely.

“The data does point even further to a market origin,” Andersen told Science magazine.

On Tuesday, the group presented its findings to the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, a panel of experts that advises the WHO on technical and scientific considerat­ions regarding emerging and re-emerging pathogens.

“The market environmen­tal sampling data published by China CDC is by far the strongest evidence to support animal origins,” said Ray Yip, one of the founding members of the U.S. CDC office in China. He was not connected to the analysis.

Last month, the U.S. Energy Department said the virus emerged from a research lab — one of several differing conclusion­s from the country’s intelligen­ce agencies and experts around the world.

The department’s conclusion was issued with “low confidence.”

 ?? GETTY ?? A sign for COVID testing shows disease is still an issue in Manhattan.
GETTY A sign for COVID testing shows disease is still an issue in Manhattan.

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