Two new studies provide new evidence that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a market in Wuhan, China, where animals were sold, supporting the theory that the virus emerged in the wild and not escaped from a Chinese laboratory.
The research, published online by the journal Science on Tuesday, shows that the Wuhan seafood market was likely the epicenter of the plague that has so far killed around 6.4 million people worldwide. The scientists concluded that the virus that causes covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, probably passed from animals to humans on two separate occasions.
“All of these tests tell us the same thing: They point directly to this particular market in downtown Wuhan,” said Kristian Andersen, a professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research and a co-author of one of the studies. “I myself was pretty convinced of the lab leak until we dove into this very carefully and looked at it much more closely.”
In one study, which incorporated data collected by Chinese scientists, University of Arizona evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey and colleagues used mapping tools to estimate the location of more than 150 of the first reported Covid-19 cases as of December. 2019. They also mapped cases from January and February 2020 using data from a social media app that had created a channel for people with covid-19 to get help.
They wondered, “Of all the places the first cases might have lived, where did they live? And it turned out that, when we were able to analyze it, there was an extraordinary pattern where the highest density of cases was extremely close to this market and very focused on it, ”Wobey explained at a press conference. “Essentially, this applies to both all cases in December and cases with no known link to the market… And this is an indication that the virus started to spread in people who worked in the market, but then started to spread. in the local community,” he said.
Andersen said they also found clusters of cases within the market, “and that clustering is very, very specific to parts of the market” where wild animals, such as raccoon dogs, are now known to be sold and are susceptible to contracting the coronavirus.
In the other study, scientists analyzed the genomic diversity of the virus inside and outside of China, starting with the first genome samples in December 2019 and extending through mid-February 2020. They found that two lineages – A and B – marked the start of the pandemic in Wuhan. Study co-author Joel Wertheim, an expert in viral evolution at the University of California, San Diego, noted that the A lineage is more genetically similar to bat coronaviruses, but the B lineage appears to have started spreading earlier in humans. especially in the market.
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