Newly released information about the coronavirus continues to debate the origin of the virus.


Data collected in 2020 and kept from public view since then adds weight to the animal theory. It highlights a possible suspect: a raccoon dog. But exactly how much weight you gain depends on who you ask. New analyzes of the data reignited the debate, and sparked some serious drama.

The current ruckus begins in February 2022 with a joint study by Chinese scientists. In a preliminary publication (a scientific paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a journal), George Gao of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCCD) and his colleagues described how they collected and analyzed 1,380 samples from the Huang seafood market.

These samples were collected between January and March 2020 after the market closed. At the time, the team wrote that they had found the coronavirus in a sample with human genetic material.

More animals than seafood were sold at this market. Gao’s paper contains a long list, including chickens, ducks, geese, pheasants, pigeons, deer, badgers, rabbits, bamboo rats, porcupines, hedgehogs, crocodiles, snakes and salamanders. And that list doesn’t end – there are reports of other animals being traded, including raccoon dogs. We’ll get back to them later.

But Gao and his colleagues reported that they did not find the coronavirus in the 18 animal species they looked at. He pointed out that it was the people who brought the virus to the market, which became the first center of the disease.

Fast forward to March 2023. On March 4, Florence Debarre, an evolutionary biologist at the Sorbonne University in Paris, saw some data uploaded to the GISAID website, which allows researchers to share genetic information to study and track viruses that cause infectious diseases. The data appears to have been uploaded in June 2022. Although not included in the actual paper, it appears to have been collected by Gao and colleagues for their February 2022 study.


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