Three new studies cast doubt on the notion that COVID originated in a lab leak in China, reports Nature. Instead, two of the studies suggest it's all but certain that the coronavirus began at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, per CNN. The third is less definitive on that but thinks COVID spilled over from animals that possibly were sold at the market. “When you look at all of the evidence together, it’s an extraordinarily clear picture that the pandemic started at the Huanan market,” Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, tells the New York Times. He co-authored two of the studies. To CNN he adds, "It's no longer something that makes sense to imagine that this started any other way."
However, all three studies are "preprints" and have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals. Researchers analyzed early COVID samples in humans and used a process known as "spatial analysis" to conclude that the market was ground zero for the outbreak. But the coverage makes clear the matter is far from settled. “I think what they’re arguing could be true,” Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, tells the Times. “But I don’t think the quality of the data is sufficient to say that any of these scenarios are true with confidence.”
If the market was, in fact, the source of the outbreak, which animal might be the culprit? Virologist Kristian Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute in California, who also co-authored two of the studies, floats the idea of raccoon dog, which Nature describes as "a squat dog-like mammal used for food and for their fur in China." The animals were sold in a section of the market where positive COVID samples were collected, and they have previously been shown to be capable of harboring coronaviruses. (Researcher Worobey has been zeroing in on the Huanan market for a while now.)