Thirteen genetic sequences িন্ন isolated from people infected with covid-1 infections in the early days of the epidemic in China-were mysteriously deleted from an online database last year but have now been recovered.
Jesse Bloom, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and an expert in viral evolution, found that the sequences had been removed from an online database at the request of scientists in Wuhan, China. But with some internet slotting, he was able to recover copies of data stored in Google Cloud.
Sequences do not fundamentally change scientists’ understanding of the origin of Kovid-1 of – whether the coronavirus spreads naturally from animals to humans or escapes by accident in the laboratory. But their removal has added to concerns that the Chinese government’s privacy has hampered international efforts to understand how Kovid-1 emerged.
Bloom’s results were published in a pre-printed paper, not yet published by other scientists, which was published on Tuesday. “I think it’s certainly consistent with trying to hide the sequence,” he told BuzzFeed News.
After reading a research paper from a team led by Carlos Farkas at the University of Manitoba in Canada, Bloom learned about some of the early genetic sequences of SARS-CoV-2. Farkas’s research paper described sequences taken from outpatient patients in a project by Uhan’s researchers who were making diagnostic tests for the virus. But when Bloom tries to download the sequences from the Sequence Read Archive, an online database run by the US National Institutes of Health, he is given an error message that they have been removed.
Bloom realized that copies of SRA data were also maintained on a server operated by Google, and was able to find URLs where missing sequences were found in the cloud. Thus, he has recovered 13 genetic sequences that could help answer questions about how the coronavirus evolved and where it came from.
Bloom found that deleted sequences, like others collected at a later date outside the city, were thought to be the ultimate ancestors of the virus that causes covid-1 causes, rather than sequences associated with Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market. This adds to previous suggestions that the seafood market may be the primary victim of Covid-1 of, where the coronavirus first jumped from animal to human.
“This is a very interesting study, edited by Dr. Bloom, and I think the analysis is completely accurate,” Fars told BuzzFeed News via email. Former Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb also praised the research on Twitter.
But some scientists are less impressed. “It doesn’t really add anything to the source debate,” Robert Gary of the University of New Orleans told BuzzFeed News via email. Gary argued that the Huanan market or other markets in Wuhan could still be the source of COVID-19.
Bloom 1 is one of 18 scientists who published a letter in May criticizing China’s research on the origins of the WHO and SARS-Cove-2. Scientists have argued that the WHO-China report failed to give a “balanced consideration” to the competitive notion that the coronavirus naturally spreads from animal to human or escapes from the lab – a theory that the report considered “extremely unlikely.” Following the publication of the WHO-China report, the United States and 13 other governments complained that it lacked “complete, basic information and access to samples.”
The deleted virus sequences were first uploaded to SRA in early March 2020, when researchers led by Ian Li and Tiang Liu of Wuhan University published a print describing their work using genetic sequencing to diagnose Kovid-1. Just a few days ago, the State Council of China directed that all documents related to COVID-19 be approved centrally.
The sequences were then withdrawn from the SRA in June, at a time when the final edition of the paper was published in a scientific journal. According to the NIH, the authors asked to remove the sequences. NIH spokeswoman Amanda Fine told BuzzFeed News via email that “the petitioner indicated that the order information has been updated, is being submitted to another database, and data has been removed from the SRA to avoid version control issues.”
However, it is not clear whether the sequences were posted online to another database.
“There is no reasonable scientific reason for the deletion,” Bloom wrote in his print, arguing that these arguments were “probably deleted to obscure their existence.” With this advice, he wrote, “less than a sincere effort to identify the initial spread of the epidemic.”
Although the sequences were deleted, Gary noted that the main genetic changes between them were still published on a table in the Whan team’s final paper. “Jesse Bloom has not found anything new that is not already part of the scientific literature,” Gary told BuzzFeed News, adding that Bloom accused his print of being “unscientific and unnecessary in inflammatory ways.”
Bloom Uhan wrote a letter to the researchers asking them why the sequences were deleted but received no answer. Lee and Liu similarly did not answer a question from BuzzFeed News.
This is not the first time that scientists have expressed concern about the removal of data that could help answer questions about the origin of Kovid-1 of. The main database containing coronavirus sequence data, run by the Wuhan Institute of Virology – which is the focus of speculation about a possible “lab leak” of the virus – was taken offline in September 2019. In February the Institute of Epidemiology visited the Institute, called their database, which contained 22,000 coronavirus samples and sequence record data, to remove bees after repeated hacking attempts.