We just got some more genetic background on the origins of Covid-19, and it appears that the a precursor to human infection was in a fox-like canid known as a raccoon-dog:
For three years now, the debate over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has ping-ponged between two big ideas: that SARS-CoV-2 spilled into human populations directly from a wild-animal source, and that the pathogen leaked from a lab. Through a swirl of data obfuscation by Chinese authorities and politicalization within the United States, and rampant speculation from all corners of the world, many scientists have stood by the notion that this outbreak — like most others — had purely natural roots. But that hypothesis has been missing a key piece of proof: genetic evidence from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, showing that the virus had infected creatures for sale there.
Now, an international team of virologists, genomicists, and evolutionary biologists may have finally found crucial data to help fill that knowledge gap. A new analysis of genetic sequences collected from the market shows that raccoon dogs being illegally sold at the venue could have been carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019. It’s some of the strongest support yet, experts told me, that the pandemic began when SARS-CoV-2 hopped from animals into humans, rather than in an accident among scientists experimenting with viruses.
“This really strengthens the case for a natural origin,” says Seema Lakdawala, a virologist at Emory University who wasn’t involved in the research. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist involved in the research, told me, “This is a really strong indication that animals at the market were infected. There’s really no other explanation that makes any sense.”
So, they were eating these raccoon-dogs? Eww.
The samples were already known to be positive for the coronavirus, and had been scrutinized before by the same group of Chinese researchers who uploaded the data to GISAID. But that prior analysis, released as a preprint publication in February 2022, asserted that “no animal host of SARS-CoV-2 can be deduced.” Any motes of coronavirus at the market, the study suggested, had most likely been chauffeured in by infected humans, rather than wild creatures for sale.
The new analysis, led by Kristian Andersen, Edward Holmes, and Michael Worobey — three prominent researchers who have been looking into the virus’s roots — shows that that may not be the case. Within about half a day of downloading the data from GISAID, the trio and their collaborators discovered that several market samples that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were also coming back chock-full of animal genetic material — much of which was a match for the common raccoon dog, a small animal related to foxes that has a raccoon-like face. Because of how the samples were gathered, and because viruses can’t persist by themselves in the environment, the scientists think that their findings could indicate the presence of a coronavirus-infected raccoon dog in the spots where the swabs were taken. Unlike many of the other points of discussion that have been volleyed about in the origins debate, the genetic data are “tangible,” Alex Crits-Christoph, a computational biologist and one of the scientists who worked on the new analysis, told me. “And this is the species that everyone has been talking about.”
Finding the genetic material of virus and mammal so closely co-mingled — enough to be extracted out of a single swab — isn’t perfect proof, Lakdawala told me. “It’s an important step; I’m not going to diminish that,” she said. Still, the evidence falls short of, say, isolating SARS-CoV-2 from a free-ranging raccoon dog or, even better, uncovering a viral sample swabbed from a mammal for sale at Huanan from the time of the outbreak’s onset. That would be the virological equivalent of catching a culprit red-handed. But “you can never go back in time and capture those animals,” says Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. And to researchers’ knowledge, “raccoon dogs were not tested at the market and had likely been removed prior to the authorities coming in,” Andersen wrote to me in an email. He underscored that the findings, although an important addition, are not “direct evidence of infected raccoon dogs at the market.”
This is really not a surprise. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is over 15 km from the wet market, and the evidence now is that there were multiple outbreaks at the wet market before the disease, “Took.”
The allegations that this is the product of some sort of bio-weapons lab, or of some sort of gain-of-function research is laughable.
The idea that the virus miraculously jumped 15km ……… at least twice, and skipped the intervening distance, or that it jumped 4km from the China CDC lab (which does not do gain-of-function research) ……… at least twice, and skipped the intervening distance, is absurd.
It’s black helicopter sh$#.