Chinese researchers had asked the National Institutes of Health to remove viral gene sequences from a key scientific database for early cases of new crowns, a move that raised concerns that scientists studying the origins of the outbreak may not have access to critical information. The Wall Street Journal reported today that it has become more difficult to trace the virus back to its source.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, it has become more difficult to trace the origin of the virus as the U.S. removed the New Crown gene sequence at the request of the Chinese.
Chinese researchers had asked the National Institutes of Health to remove the viral gene sequences of early New Crown cases from a key scientific database.
According to the NIH, it confirmed that the sequences were removed at the request of a Chinese researcher. The sequences were submitted three months before the person made that request. The institute said in a statement, “Researchers who submit data have rights related to their data and can request that the data be withdrawn.”
The report did not mention the name of the Chinese researcher.
Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, described the sequencing data deletion described above in a new paper published online Tuesday. The paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, says the deleted data include viral sequences extracted from viral samples collected in Wuhan, China, between January and February 2020 from hospitalized or suspected cases of Neocrown pneumonia.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the National Institutes of Health removed genetic sequencing information submitted by Chinese researchers for early cases of 2019 coronavirus disease at their request, raising concerns that a key piece of the outbreak origins research puzzle may be missing as a result.
Bloom said some of the deleted data can still be found in a paper published in a small journal, but scientists usually look for genetic sequencing information in large databases such as those maintained by the National Institutes of Health.
The retraction of the genetic sequencing data by the Chinese side is unlikely to change researchers’ understanding of the Wuhan outbreak of the 2019 coronavirus disease at the time, the report said. But Blum said the Chinese demand to remove the information would call into question the public transparency of China’s ongoing investigation into the origins of the outbreak.
According to the Central News Agency, an international team led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other scientists are investigating the origins of the 2019 coronavirus disease, for which scientists need access to information that could reveal how the new coronavirus infected humans and began spreading, the agency said. The removal of early case genetic sequencing from the database will make it more difficult for scientists to trace the origin of the epidemic and may slow down related research.
According to a statement from the National Institutes of Health, the Chinese researchers who submitted the genetic sequencing requested its removal in June 2020 on the grounds that the information had been updated and would be published in another unknown database, and the researchers wanted the old version removed to avoid confusion.
The Chinese researchers submitted the information to the National Institutes of Health database in March 2020 and published the sequencing information in a paper on a preprint server.
The scarcity of information on early cases of Wuhan 2019 coronavirus disease is one of the challenges scientists face in studying the origins of the outbreak, Blum said in the latest paper. Most of that information is limited to genetic sequencing of virus samples obtained from 10 or so patients infected at the Wuhan South China Seafood Wholesale Market in December 2019, and a few patients before the end of January 2020.
According to Blum, the removal of genetic sequencing information has “slightly distorted” the image of the virus that circulated in Wuhan at the beginning of the outbreak, and “one of the reasons we haven’t seen more sequencing like this is probably because the people involved are not fully committed to making them available to the public.