Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Rethinking the Beginnings of the Pandemic Based on New Data

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Nature of Science, History of Science, Nature, Medicine

Ed Hessler

You will recall that it was only a few months ago a letter was published in the journal Science by a distinguished group of virologists that shifted our attention on the origin of the COVID-19 from market to lab. And it has gotten a fair amount of ink since. I should say this letter enlarged the candidate pool by one.

Now an evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey (University of Arizon) thinks the most likely candidate is the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. NPR's Goats and Soda's Michaeleen Doucleff reports on that conjecture. Worobey was a signer of the letter published in Science, " telling Doucleff that he signed "because more investigation is needed of both possibilities." Doucleff describes him as "a bit like the Sherlock Holmes of pandemic origins," based on his work with the 1918 flu and the arrival of HIV in New York City.

Worobey bases this hypothesis on two new pieces of evidence. A colleague, microbiologist Robert Garry (Tulane University), mapped the cases. The dots on the map show an interesting pattern. There aren't any around the viral institute; there are many dots at and around the market.

As you know "the Chinese government has claimed the vendors at the market didn't sell any illegal wildlife. Turns out they did. Two of the species palm civets and raccoon dogs were sold there and both are SARS-CoV-19 spreaders.

This does not mean case closed and Doucleff reports on what is known and what isn't about cases. Doucleff counters some of the arguments made by those challenging his hypothesis. She also notes that if the Chinese would release data for the 2019 patients as well as allow the analysis of blood bank samples and the conduct of epidemiological interviews, this would allow scientists to reach firmer evidence-based conclusions.

As Doucleff notes in the final paragraph that if new data comes to light tomorrow, his thinking may shift again, Worobey says. That, in many ways, is the way science works."

And this is one reason why this essay is an important read.

Doucleff's essay includes links to scientists mentioned, a few maps and to the online review which changed the way Worobey now thinks about the likely epicenter of COVID-19. 

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