A brand new virus has been detected in the Chinese laboratory at the center of the origin of Covid.
Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology discovered the pathogen — codenamed LsPyV KY187 — in a mouse.
It belongs to a family of polyomaviruses that infect millions of children every year, but are extremely mild.
Scientists at the controversial lab made the find after testing hundreds of rodents in Kenya in 2016 and 2019.
Samples were then sent for analysis to the biochemical research facility in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the Covid pandemic.
The new polyomavirus was detected in a striped grass mouse, also known as a zebra mouse.
That’s according to a study published this month in the Chinese journal Virologica Sinica.
Because the new virus is not closely related to any known pathogen, its effect on humans is “unclear and needs further assessment,” the researchers said.
A brand new virus has been detected in the Chinese laboratory at the center of the origin of Covid. It was discovered in a striped grass mouse, also known as a zebra mouse (pictured), in Kenya
Whether the global outbreak started with an overflow of wildlife sold on the market or leaked from the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has sparked a fierce debate about how the next pandemic might will be prevented. Now, two new studies point to a natural overflow in Huanan’s wildlife market. Positive smears from floors, cages and counters also trace the virus back to stalls in the southwest corner of the market (bottom left), which at the time sold animals that could potentially harbor Covid for meat or fur (bottom right)
The discovery highlights how things are going on in the Wuhan lab, despite lingering questions about its ties to the pandemic.
Covid started to spread at an animal slaughter market about 13 kilometers from the WIV, which was working with dangerous coronaviruses.
Chinese officials have suppressed independent research into the lab and cleared crucial databases of information about the earliest Covid patients.
WIV researchers who fell ill with a mysterious flu-like virus months before the official Covid timeline were either silenced or disappeared.
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where crucial data was erased by Chinese scientists
Virologist Shi Zheng-li works with her colleague in the P4 lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Hubei province – which is at the heart of the lab leak theory. Nicknamed the ‘Bat Lady’, Zheng-li hunted down dozens of deadly Covid-like viruses in bat caves and studied them at the WIV
Has Covid emerged in the infamous wet market after all?
The fierce debate over the origins of the Covid pandemic was rekindled last month after two new investigations claimed to trace the outbreak to an infamous animal slaughter market in Wuhan.
One showed for the first time how the earliest human cases gathered in a small radius around the Huanan Seafood Market in the winter of 2019.
More accurate analysis of swabs from floors, cages and counters trace the virus back to stalls in the southwest corner of the market, where animals capable of harboring Covid were once sold for meat or fur.
A second study claimed to have pinpointed the exact date when the first animal-to-human infection occurred — November 18, 2019 — after performing genetic analysis on hundreds of samples of the first human carriers.
Researchers behind that study also say they found evidence that another first-generation strain was spreading into the wet market — which, if true, would place both original lines within its walls.
Until recently, the only Covid cases linked to the market were Lineage B, which was thought to have developed after Lineage A. Proponents of the accidental lab leak hypothesis used this as evidence that the virus only entered the market after it developed elsewhere in Wuhan.
But critics downplayed or completely disputed the findings, warning that both studies were conducted by the same group of academics who have regularly advocated the theory of natural origin.
To read our story back then, click here.
The so-called lab-leak hypothesis was dismissed as conspiracy or xenophobia in early 2020. But as time went on, the theory gained traction.
WIV experts have worked extensively on bat and other animal coronaviruses and were known to experiment with Covid’s closest relatives.
It also conducted controversial gain-of-function experiments tinkering with viruses to make them more infectious or deadly.
But there has never been any direct evidence that Covid first jumped on humans in the facility.
And new research seems to support the idea that the Huanan Seafood Market was the true source of the pandemic.
The latest study, submitted to the scientific journal last November, involved taking samples from 232 animals in five provinces in Kenya.
They were collected twice: in August and September 2016 and March 2019.
Researchers looked at 226 mice and rats, five shrews and one hedgehog, all of which are known carriers of zoonotic infectious diseases — diseases that jump on humans.
The samples were returned to the WIV for PCR analysis.
Liver, lung and kidney tissue from each animal was screened for the presence of DNA viruses from seven families.
A total of 25 animals tested positive. In all but one case, the samples were traced to pre-existing viruses.
But further analysis showed that the new virus polyomavirus is only 60 percent similar to its closest relative.
In the paper, the researchers wrote that the new virus was “not closely related to any virus known to cause disease in their small mammalian hosts or in humans.”
They added: ‘Their pathogenicity [ability to cause disease in humans] and the potential risk of zoonotic transmission are unclear and need further assessment.”
About 80 percent of adults have had a polyomavirus infection at some point in their lives, usually in childhood.
The virus lives in the upper respiratory tract, and people usually have no symptoms at all.
It is never completely flushed out of the body and remains dormant throughout life – but most will never realize it.
In very rare cases, the virus can reactivate and multiply in immunosuppressed patients, resulting in kidney or even brain damage.
Meanwhile, the Wuhan researchers also emphasize the importance of continuing to conduct virus research on animals.
“As agricultural activities are increasingly taking place in the natural habitats of rodents in Africa, this highlights the need for continuous surveillance over a large area, which could mean larger sample sizes and more high-throughput detection methods.
‘Pathogenicity studies of new viral pathogens are also needed in future research.
“Such programs will provide an important foundation for future prevention and control of emerging zoonotic diseases.”