It was in December last year that the first cases of COVID-19 were reported from Wuhan Credit: Representational image

A recent study by Chinese researchers has claimed that the coronavirus- COVID-19 originated in “north-central India and Pakistan” in the summer of 2019 instead of the Chinese city of Wuhan. It was in December last year that Wuhan reported the first cases of COVID-19.

When a virus reproduces, it mutates every time with small changes in the DNA. Chinese researchers now argue that the original virus can be traced down with the strain that has the lowest mutation. In the study, researchers used a method to search the least mutated strain using SARS-CoV-2 whole-genome sequences which stated that the least mutated strain is the original virus.

With this method, the scientists believed that the evidence pointed to eight countries where the original strain of the virus could have been originated. This list includes countries like India, Bangladesh, USA, Australia, Greece, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, or Siberia, thereby eliminating the possibility of Wuhan being the origin point.

The paper noted, “Both the least mutated strain’s geographic information and the strain diversity suggest that the Indian subcontinent might be the place where the earliest human-to-human SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurred, which was three or four months prior to the Wuhan outbreak.”

Additionally, the paper stated that the virus mutation in Bangladesh and India was low, and given they are neighbouring nations it raised the possibility of the first case having the origin point here. According to Chinese researchers, the virus originated when northern-central parts of India and Pakistan suffered the second-longest recorded heatwave in July-August 2019. This led to a water crisis as well.

The paper added, “The water shortage made wild animals such as monkeys engage in the deadly fight over water among each other and would have surely increased the chance of human-wild animal interactions. We speculated that the [animal to human] transmission of SARS-CoV-2 might be associated with this unusual heatwave.”

However, experts aren’t impressed by the paper as David Robertson- Glasgow University told Daily Mail, that the paper was “very flawed” and that “it adds nothing to our understanding of coronavirus.”

“The author’s approach of identifying the “least mutated” virus sequences is inherently biased. The authors have also ignored the extensive epidemiological data available that shows clear emergence in China and that the virus spread from there. This paper adds nothing to our understanding of SARS-CoV-2,” said Robertson.

The paper is authored by Libing Shen from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) – Institute of Neuroscience, Funan He from Fudan University – School of Life Sciences and Zhao Zhang from the University of Texas at Houston – Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

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