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China deleted COVID information from database; US virologist finds early virus sequences

China deleted early data on novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 in a possible attempt to conceal its existence and, therefore, impeding the investigation into its origins, a researcher has claimed in a new study.

China deleted COVID information from database; US virologist finds early virus sequences-dnm
New York, First Published Jun 25, 2021, 10:21 AM IST

About a year ago, genetic sequences from more than 200 virus samples from early cases of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, disappeared from an online scientific database.

Now, details of the genetic makeup of some of the earliest samples of coronavirus in China were removed from an American database where they were initially stored at the request of Chinese researchers, US officials confirmed, adding to concerns over secrecy surrounding the outbreak and its origins.

According to a scientific paper, over a dozen coronavirus test sequences that were taken during the early months of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic were removed from an international database used to track the virus' evolution.

Now, by rooting through files stored on Google Cloud, a researcher in Seattle reports that he has recovered 13 of those original sequences — intriguing new information for discerning when and how the virus may have spilled over from a bat or another animal into humans.

The new analysis, released Tuesday, bolsters earlier suggestions that a variety of coronaviruses may have been circulating in Wuhan before the initial outbreaks linked to animal and seafood markets in December 2019.

As the Biden administration investigates the contested origins of the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, the study neither strengthens nor discounts the hypothesis that the pathogen leaked out of a famous Wuhan lab. But it does raise questions about why original sequences were deleted, and suggests that there may be more revelations to recover from the far corners of the internet.

“This is a great piece of sleuth work for sure, and it significantly advances efforts to understand the origin of SARS-CoV-2,” said Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona who was not involved in the study.

The disappearance of the genetic sequences from the database raises questions about what else from the Wuhan outbreak has been shielded, said American virologist Jesse Bloom, who publicized his discovery that they were missing earlier this week. Bloom, who subsequently recovered the information, said it didn't provide definitive details on where or how the virus originated.

"I don't think we can say very much with high confidence," said Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, referring to the virus's origins. He added that his findings "reminds us of how little we know."

The report titled ‘Recovery of Deleted Deep Sequencing Data Sheds More Light on the Early Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 Epidemic’ has not been peer-reviewed yet and is available on a pre-print server.

In a statement on Wednesday, NIH confirmed that some of the earliest samples of coronavirus in China were removed from the international database where they were initially stored at the request of Chinese researchers. The researcher asked that the data be removed “to avoid version control issues”, saying the sequence information had been updated and was being submitted to another database, according to the US agency.

“Submitting investigators hold the rights to their data and can request withdrawal of the data,” the agency said. “NIH can’t speculate on motive beyond the investigator’s stated intentions.”

Politicians and scientists from around the world have grown increasingly frustrated by China's efforts to deflect an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, especially the possibility that it leaked from a Wuhan laboratory. Though a World Health Organization expert team visited China earlier this year for an investigation, they were not allowed access to raw data and their conclusion -- that the virus likely crossed over from animals -- has been criticized as being premature.

US President Joe Biden has ordered American intelligence agencies to probe the issue again, while China has strenuously denied that the Wuhan laboratory had any link to the outbreak.

(With inputs from agencies) 

NOTE: Asianet News humbly requests everyone to wear masks, sanitize, maintain social distancing and get vaccinated as soon as eligible. Together we can and will break the chain #ANCares #IndiaFightsCorona  

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