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21 March 2023: Origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus Theory

What’s in news?

Unreleased genetic data from a Wuhan food market has been discovered and is being used to bolster the zoonotic theory over the lab leak idea. These findings were submitted to the WHO’s Scientific Advisory Group, an expert group, on the origins of new pathogens.


  • The primary theoretical dualism that the world has been grappling with since the COVID-19 pandemic is the question of origin — lab leaks or zoonoses.
  • In a letter published nearly two years ago in the Science journal, experts urged the scientific community to keep an open mind regarding both hypotheses, arguing that they were still feasible.
  • They also urged public health organizations and researchers to make their data and findings available to the public.  It is expected that the current genetic findings given to the WHO will be published in a peer-reviewed publication.

Origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus

  • The Chinese team allegedly took samples from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which has been notably linked to a cluster of early COVID-19 cases since 2020.
  • In February 2022, they published a preprint with a graph showing multiple ambient samples from the market carrying the virus, which also contained human genetic material.
  • The market was quickly closed down since it was known that there was unlawful animal trade.

Twin theory:

  • It goes on to chronicle early published findings by Gao and colleagues, which claim that humans brought the virus to market after detecting human DNA in some of the samples that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 but not others.
  • The WHO currently has evidence that “some coronavirus-positive samples collected contained DNA or RNA from raccoon dogs, civets, and other mammals now known to be highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.
  • According to Michael Worobey, Head of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, who has been examining the twin ideas separately, the line of evidence leads up the zoonoses road, not the lab leak path.
  • There is currently a substantial amount of peer-reviewed scientific evidence supporting a zoonotic origin for this epidemic. There is, however, no genuine, peer-reviewed evidence indicating a lab leak. If the evidence had pointed in the opposite direction, Michael Worobey would have reported it. But it hasn’t happened.


  • Zoonosis is a disease that has spread from nonhuman animals to humans. Zoonotic infections can be transmitted to people by direct contact, food, drink, or the environment and can be bacterial, viral, or parasitic in nature.
  • There are around 200 different kinds of zoonoses.
  • Zoonoses account for a significant portion of new and established human illnesses.
  • Some zoonoses, such as animal rabies, may be completely avoided by vaccination and other techniques.
  • Because of our close relationship with animals in agriculture, as companions, and in the natural environment, they are a huge public health hazard all over the world. Zoonoses can also impede the production and trading of animal products used for food and other purposes.

Source: The Hindu, WHO