A new study claims to have discovered early sequences of the coronavirus that had been reportedly removed from an international database tracking the virus, and that these early sequences show COVID-19 originated in humans before it was discovered at Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market.
The study was written by Jesse Bloom at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He states a team of Chinese researchers samples viruses from some of the earliest COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China. The scientists then uploaded the viral sequences from these samples to a widely-used U.S. database with the National Institutes of Health. A few months later, the genetic sequencing information from these samples was removed.
Bloom says he “recover(ed) the deleted files from the Google Cloud, and reconstruct(ed) partial sequences of 13 early epidemic viruses.”
His study of these sequences claims to show there were already mutations in the virus by the time it was found at the seafood market, indicating there were human cases prior.
Bloom does not suggest an answer to where COVID-19 came from.
"I hope scientifically we can get beyond just arguing about that," said Bloom. "These sequences are informative for understanding early SARS-CoV-2 spread in Wuhan. They're not transformative, but they fill in some really important gaps."
The claims and Bloom’s timeline of events have sparked conspiracy theories in the scientific community. Some critics say Bloom’s discovery is not new, and that the Chinese scientists later published the full viral information in a different form, and that the recovered sequences do not add to the volume of information known about COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2.
What scientists do agree on is that Bloom’s research adds to the growing call for a more thorough investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
A World Health Organization report earlier this year was widely considered incomplete and President Joe Biden is among world leaders asking for more research to be done.
There are competing theories that the coronavirus either “escaped” from a lab in Wuhan, China, where viruses are studied or spread to humans from an animal, likely a bat, called zoonosis.
“I don’t think this (his report) bolsters either the lab origin or zoonosis hypothesis,” Bloom said. “I think it provides additional evidence that this virus was probably circulating in Wuhan before December, certainly, and that probably, we have a less than complete picture of the sequences of the early viruses.”