Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists have been working to identify the origin of the virus. One theory is that it may have come from an animal, and a recent study suggests that raccoon dogs may have played a role in the virus’s spread.
COVID-19 genome linked to raccoon dogs
Raccoon dogs are small furry animal that is native to East Asia. They are often bred for their fur and are also consumed as a delicacy in parts of China. The animals were reportedly present in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in late 2019.
A team of virologists, geneticists, and evolutionary biologists from different universities around the world have identified raccoon dogs as a potential source of COVID-19 in the Wuhan market in China.
The study, published in The Atlantic, was conducted by a team of virologists, geneticists, and evolutionary biologists from universities around the world. They analyzed the genetic sequences of the virus and compared them to those of other known coronaviruses, including those found in bats and pangolins.
The researchers found that the virus is closely related to coronaviruses found in bats, but that it also contains a unique feature that is not present in other known coronaviruses. This feature is similar to one found in a coronavirus that infects raccoon dogs.
Virus may have jumped from animals
The team also identified a specific region of the virus’s genome that may have allowed it to jump from an animal host to a human. This region is similar to one found in a coronavirus that infects pangolins.
The researchers believe that the virus may have initially infected bats, then jumped to raccoon dogs, and then to humans. It is not clear how the virus made this jump, but it is thought to have occurred through the consumption of infected animals at the Huanan market.
However, it is important to note that the study’s findings are not conclusive, and further research is needed to confirm the role of raccoon dogs in the virus’s spread. Other animals, such as pangolins, have also been identified as potential hosts of the virus.
Renewed calls for wildlife trade regulation
Identifying the origin of the virus is important for understanding how it spreads and for developing strategies to prevent future pandemics. It also has implications for the wildlife trade and the consumption of unfamiliar animals, which have been linked to the emergence of other zoonotic diseases in the past.
The study’s findings have sparked renewed calls for a crackdown on the wildlife trade and the consumption of unfamiliar animals. Many conservation and animal welfare groups have long argued that the trade is cruel and unsustainable and that it poses a significant risk to human health.
In response to the pandemic, China has taken steps to regulate the wildlife trade and has banned the consumption of certain animals. However, some experts argue that more needs to be done to enforce these regulations and address the root causes of the trade.
Photo of raccoon dogs in Chinese market
English biologist Edward Holmes, who was involved in the research, visited the Wuhan market in 2014 and took a photo of raccoon dogs in a cage, suspecting that they could be the key to the emergence of a new virus.
When news of a suspicious disease in China emerged in late 2019, he was reminded of the photo and his suspicion. The research published in The Atlantic confirms his suspicion, providing tangible evidence through genetic samples.
Although raccoon dogs have been discussed as suspects before, this is the first time there is more concrete evidence.
Danish biologist Kristian Andersen, also involved in the study, believes that raccoon dogs are at the top of his list of potential hosts, but they are not the only ones, and it is not yet definitive evidence.
Edward Holmes is a renowned specialist in the evolution of viruses and was the first scientist to present the genome of the new coronavirus to the world.
Experts discuss COVID-19 origin theories
Gao Fu, the former head of the Chinese CDC and lead author of the Chinese paper, did not respond to an Associated Press email for comment but told Science magazine that the sequences were already known and that the market was immediately shut down due to illegal animal dealing. The findings were presented to a WHO advisory panel investigating COVID-19’s origins.
Michael Imperiale, a microbiology and immunology expert at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the analysis, suggested that the evidence supports a natural exposure at the market, as research published last summer showed that the market was likely the early epicenter of the pandemic.
Infectious diseases expert Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh noted that it will be crucial to compare the genetic sequences of the raccoon dogs to those of the COVID-19 virus’s historic evolution. If the dogs are found to have COVID with earlier origins than those that infected people, it would be strong evidence of a spillover event at the market.
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