Genetic sequences from more than 200 virus samples of early Covid-19 cases mysteriously disappeared from an online scientific database. A researcher in Seattle reported the recovery of 13 of those original sequences.
While the Fred Hutchison Cancer Center researcher, Jesse Bloom, clarifies that the sequences themselves do not definitively answer the question of origin, it does show that the samples being used to investigate may not be complete.
The files had been uploaded to a U.S. National Institutes of Health database in March 2020. But the NIH received a request from the investigator who submitted to delete the sequences three months later. It is standard practice to allow this, so the NIH complied.
Although Bloom’s find neither strengthens nor discounts the theory that the COVID-19 virus was leaked from a lab in Wuhan, it certainly raises the question as to why those original sequences were deleted. It also has researchers asking themselves what other important information might be tucked away on the internet to recover. Bloom finds the deletion suspicious, writing it “seems likely the sequences were deleted to obscure their existence.”
While Bloom was reviewing genetic data from multiple research groups, a March 2020 study came up with a spreadsheet indicating 241 sequences collected at Wuhan University were uploaded to the Sequence Read Archive, an online database managed by the U.S.’ National Library of Medicine. Yet when he looked for the sequences, the search came back with “no item found.”