The US National Institutes of Health has deleted gene sequences of early Covid-19 cases from a key scientific database at the request of Chinese researchers, a Seattle-based virologist has alleged.
Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, described the removal of the sequencing data in a new paper posted online on bioRxiv on Tuesday. The paper claims that Chinese researchers took virus samples from some of the earliest Covid patients in Wuhan in January and February of 2020, then posted the viral sequences to a widely used US database. After three months the genetic information was removed to “obscure their existence”, an editorial in the journal Science reported on Wednesday.
“Here I identify a data set containing SARS-CoV-2 sequences from early in the Wuhan epidemic that has been deleted from the NIH’s Sequence,” Bloom posted on bioRxiv. “I recover the deleted files from the Google Cloud, and reconstruct partial sequences of 13 early epidemic viruses. Phylogenetic analysis of these sequences in the context of carefully annotated existing data suggests that the Huanan Seafood Market sequences that are the focus of the joint WHO-China report are not fully representative of the viruses in Wuhan early in the epidemic.”
“Instead, the progenitor of known SARS-CoV-2 sequences likely contained three mutations relative to the market viruses that made it more similar to SARS-CoV-2’s bat coronavirus relatives,” Bloom wrote. The NIH issued a statement to explain their reasons for the deletion. “Submitting investigators hold the rights to their data and can request withdrawal of the data,” the NIH said in a statement. The scientist “indicated the sequence information had been updated, was being submitted to another database, and wanted the data removed from SRA to avoid version control issues,” NIH said.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: GREATER KASHMIR
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