Are raccoon dogs really to blame for Covid?
The latest origin theory for the virus doesn't hold much water
Last week, the Atlantic published an article entitled “The strongest evidence yet that an animal started the pandemic”.
It concerns a new analysis of genetic samples taken from a wet market in Wuhan, which is supposedly where the Covid pandemic started. The study shows DNA from the virus was found in the same place as DNA from a fox-like mammal called a raccoon dog. So, could this be the missing link between SARS-CoV-2 and a host population of wild animals?
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That’s the implication of the Atlantic scoop and many subsequent pieces in the American mainstream press. But just how conclusive is the new research? And does it really strengthen the case for a natural origin of the pandemic, as opposed to the politically explosive lab leak theory?
The evidence, such as it is, comes from a report by various Western geneticists and other researchers. However, as the authors clearly state, the report is “not intended for publication in a journal”. Further, it is based on raw data controlled by the Chinese authorities and which is no longer available for analysis by other scientists. (This is not something for which the report authors can be blamed — the Chinese state has a habit of frustrating independent investigations into the origin of the pandemic.)
But let’s suppose that the raw data is unimpeachable. If it does show that raccoon dog DNA was found in the same place as SARS-CoV-2 DNA, is this the smoking gun that proves that the critters are guilty?
Not exactly. For that we’d need to show that the animals in question were actually infected with the virus. What’s more, we’d need to demonstrate that the direction of infection was from raccoon dog to human, not the other way round.
It’s also worth noting that the samples were collected in January 2020. That is to say, several weeks after the virus was known to be circulating in the human population. There was therefore enough time for it to spread from elsewhere in Wuhan to the market, where wild animals could have been infected by their captors.
One final point. On page 9 of the report, it is stated that DNA analysis could be used to identify “particular subspecies — and perhaps even local populations of wild or farmed animals”. This would allow the geographical origins of the animals present at the market to be traced. If they came from a wild population, that would be significant. An origin in southern China or South East Asia would be yet more significant — because that is the hotspot to which related coronaviruses have been traced.
The authors are keen to point out that the raccoon dog DNA in the Wuhan sample was “distinct” from the subspecies that is commonly farmed for its fur. Indeed, the closest match was to the genome of a raccoon dog that was “collected in the wild in China”.
However, when I looked up the corresponding reference it was to a 2010 paper that said that the animal came from the Lake Dalai Nature Reserve in the far north of China — a very long way from the steamy south of the country.
This isn’t necessarily proof that the Wuhan raccoon dogs didn’t come from the south but, on the evidence provided, there’s no reason to assume that they did.
Judging by the media hype surrounding this story, too much has been assumed already. The question of where Covid came from is, frustratingly, yet to be settled.
Team lab leak.
“It was artificially “zoonotic” in the sense that a bat virus was combined with a pangolin protein strand and then an inactivated HIV like insertion in a a way that could not have plausibly arisen in Nature under any rational scenario”. It’s been over 3 years now but is in my opinion still the best research into this virus and it will open your eyes as to what is going on in Gain of Function research
I’m not even sure it matters anymore. It’s almost too late. It almost certainly came from an unintentional leak in a Chinese lab, partially funded with American money. They’re all to blame.
What I find interesting is the CIA and State Department suddenly suggest it was a lab leak. Three years ago, you were racist for making this suggestion. Now it’s okay. What’s changed?
“What I find interesting is the CIA and State Department suddenly suggest it was a lab leak. Three years ago, you were racist for making this suggestion. Now it’s okay. What’s changed?”
The cold war with China is heating up. The US is looking for any stick to beat them with.
If the Lab Leak is going to come out as the by far most likely origin, you might as well put all the blame on your geopolitical foe especially if you were just as much involved as they were.
The CIA and State Department have not suggested that a lab leak caused the pandemic. It was the FBI and the Energy Department.
Yes, you are correct. My mistake.
I don’t care where it came from, by which I mean that if it turns out to be a laboratory leak (which I still think the most likely) ok, if it turns out it came from the wild ok,too; I’ve no interest in blaming either the Chinese government or the US government. However, what is important is knowing the facts; we need knowledge to enable us to build a stratagy to prevent more novel viruses arising in the future, this whole thing needs to be de-politised to enable us to arrive at the truth.
Knowing where it came from is the very first fact. Covid 19 was developed in a Chinese bio lab using gain-of-function methods. That much is known. Whether it accidentally “escaped” or was deliberately released must be determined. Blame and punishment is very much in order either way.
ooooh careful.. might be racist .. a racoon?
You should see the memes on Twitter
Finally “The question of where Covid came from is, frustratingly, yet to be settled.” Does this article have any purpose ?
Well, I think it does…. Certainly. Remember that there are hundreds of millions of people who believe anything that is fed to them.
Yes. I think that goes for both hypotheses
We have new scientific journal: The Atlantic….they must have strict peer review system.
Wag the Dog, I guess. Have they found even one raccoon dog infected with Sars Cov 2? I would think the Chinese would be working on that to distract from the lab leak option. I believe there was extensive evidence for animal transmission with Sars Cov 1 so there should be precedent for how to research animal transmission
Here’s my opinion based on the evidence I have seen (and I think I have seen all that is public):
(1) Neither the lab leak theory or the natural spillover theory comes anywhere close to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” level of proof (or “high confidence” in intelligence agency assessments).
(2) The lab leak theory has more support than the natural spillover theory, and might even meet the “more likely than not” level of proof (or “medium confidence”).
(3) Both theories meet the “probable cause” level of proof (or “low confidence”).
(4) The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not a scientific question but should be treated like any other investigation into a past event that caused harm.
(5) Our investigative agencies in the United States have done a good job collecting and assessing the evidence, but on current evidence cannot reach a firm conclusion.
(6) Scientists on both sides of the debate have sullied science with their bitterness, bickering and hubris and their use of pseudoscientific arguments while claiming expertise in an area where science does not apply.
I think it was Donald Trump. I think his hair dye interacted with his fake tan while he was peeing on a prostitute – with tragic results for all of us. Damn that orange man.
Peeing on a ‘Lady-of-the-Night, How unusual (not to mention depraved and mysogynistic). After 36 years as a Seafarer and as an observer only I would think that to get his dye/tan to run it would be the other way around. Very sloppy preparation or he must have looked out from under the glass table-top.
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