The reason cited at the time for withdrawal was that the sequence information had been updated and was being submitted to another database, the agency said.
United States officials confirmed that details of the genetic makeup of some of the earliest samples of coronavirus in China were removed from an American database where they were initially stored at the request of Chinese researchers, adding to concerns over secrecy surrounding the outbreak and its origins.
The data, first submitted to the US-based Sequence Read Archive in March 2020, were “requested to be withdrawn” by the same researcher three months later in June, the US National Institutes of Health said in a statement Wednesday. The genetic sequences came from the Chinese city of Wuhan where the Covid-19 outbreak was initially concentrated, said a news report.
The reason cited at the time for withdrawal was that the sequence information had been updated and was being submitted to another database, the agency said. The researcher asked that the data be removed “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 report said.
Politicians and scientists from around the world have grown increasingly frustrated by China’s efforts to avoid an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, especially the Wuhan lab leak theory. Though a World Health Organization expert team visited China earlier this year for an investigation, they were not allowed access to raw data and their conclusion — that the virus likely crossed over from animals — has been criticized as being premature.
U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered American intelligence agencies to probe the issue again, while China has strenuously denied that the Wuhan laboratory had any link to 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, referring to the virus’s origins. He added that his findings “remind us of how little we know.”
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