Chinese researchers told NIH to delete early COVID-19 gene sequences from database: WSJ

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The National Institutes of Health erased gene sequences of early COVID-19 cases from its scientific database last year at the request of a Chinese researcher who submitted the information, according to a June 23 Wall Street Journal report. 

Some virologists are concerned that U.S. scientists studying the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic may now lack access to key pieces of information, also prompting doubts about China's transparency in the investigation of the pandemic's origin. 

"It makes us wonder if there are other sequences like these that have been purged,” Vaughn Cooper, PhD, a University of Pittsburgh evolutionary biologist, told the Journal

The NIH confirmed that it deleted the sequences after a Chinese researcher, who submitted the data in March 2020, requested its erasure. Submitting investigators "hold the rights to their data and can request withdrawal of the data," the NIH said. 

The removal of the sequencing data is detailed in a paper published June 22 by Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, according to the report. The paper claimed the missing data included sequences from virus samples collected in Wuhan, China, in January and February 2020 from patients hospitalized with or suspected of having COVID-19. The paper hasn't been peer reviewed. 

The Chinese researchers wanted the data deleted in June 2020 because they had updated the information and planned to post it to another unspecified database, according to the report.


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