Early in the novel coronavirus epidemic, the National Institutes of Health submitted to a request by a Chinese researcher to delete gene-sequence data taken from COVID-19 patients in Wuhan.
The move by China reported by the Wall Street Journal raises further concerns about Beijing’s efforts to block crucial research that could have aided the pandemic response as well as investigations into the origin of the outbreak.
The NIH told the Journal in a statement it complied with the request because “[s]ubmitting investigators hold the rights to their data and can request withdrawal of the data.”
The researcher asked the NIH to remove the sequences from its database because they had been updated. According to a paper by Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the virus samples were from hospitalized patients in Wuhan. The patients were said to have been infected in the first two months of 2020.
The Journal reported Bloom said the deletion created “a somewhat skewed picture of viruses circulating in Wuhan early on.”
He said it “suggests possibly one reason why we haven’t seen more of these sequences is perhaps there hasn’t been a wholehearted effort to get them out there.”
But Bloom told the Journal he recovered the deleted files from the Google Cloud, and he reconstructed partial sequences of 13 coronaviruses.
Vaughn S. Cooper, a University of Pittsburgh biologist, told the Journal it “makes us wonder if there are other sequences like these that have been purged.”
Bloom, in his paper, said the limited data provided by China makes it difficult to find the original virus. But he has enough raw data to indicate that the virus was circulating in Wuhan before it was detected in people who had contact with the nearby meat market.
Bloom said the World Health Organization-China investigative team that concluded the lab-leak theory was “unlikely” had no access to the raw data from the earliest cases of COVID-19.
The gene sequences from the cases related to the market were the primary focus of the WHO-China report.
However, Bloom wrote, they “not representative of the viruses that were circulating in Wuhan in late December of 2019 and early January of 2020.”
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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.