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US Confirms Wuhan Coronavirus Sequences Removed From Database At Request Of Chinese Researchers

New Delhi: Details of the genetic makeup of some of the earliest coronavirus samples in China were removed from an American database where they were initially stored at the request of Chinese researchers, according to US officials, adding to concerns about the outbreak’s and its origins’ secrecy.

The data, which were first submitted to the US-based Sequence Read Archive in March 2020, were “requested to be withdrawn” by the same researcher three months later in June, according to a statement issued by the National Institutes of Health on Wednesday.

The genetic sequences originated in Wuhan, China, where the Covid-19 outbreak was initially concentrated.

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The reason given for the withdrawal at the time was that the sequence information had been updated and was being submitted to another database, according to the agency. The researcher requested that the data be deleted “to avoid version control issues,” it said.

“Submitting investigators hold the rights to their data and can request withdrawal of the data,” the agency said. “NIH can’t speculate on motive beyond the investigator’s stated intentions.”

The disappearance of the genetic sequences from the database raises concerns about what else from the Wuhan outbreak has been protected, according to American virologist Jesse Bloom, who discovered them missing earlier this week. Bloom, who later recovered the data, stated that it did not provide definitive information on where or how the virus originated.

Politicians and scientists from around the world have grown increasingly frustrated by China’s efforts to divert attention away from the coronavirus’s origins, particularly the possibility that it leaked from a Wuhan laboratory. Despite the fact that a World Health Organization expert team visited China earlier this year to conduct an investigation, they were denied access to raw data and their findings — that the virus likely crossed over from animals — has been criticized as being premature.

US President Joe Biden has directed American intelligence agencies to reinvestigate the matter, while China has categorically denied any connection between the Wuhan laboratory and the outbreak.

“I don’t think we can say very much with high confidence,” said Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in terms of the virus’s origins. He also stated that his findings “remind us of how little we know”.

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