Chinese Covid-19 Gene Data That Could Have Aided Pandemic Research Removed From NIH Database

Chinese researchers directed the U.S. National Institutes of Health to delete gene sequences of early Covid-19 cases from a key scientific database, raising concerns that scientists studying the origin of the pandemic may lack access to key pieces of information.

The NIH confirmed that it deleted the sequences after receiving a request from a Chinese researcher who had submitted them three months earlier.

The paper, which hasn’t been peer reviewed, says the missing data include sequences from virus samples collected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in January and February of 2020 from patients hospitalized with or suspected of having Covid-19.

Some of the deleted information is still available in a paper that was published in a specialized journal, but scientists typically look for gene sequences in major databases like the one the NIH maintains, Dr. Bloom said.

According to the NIH statement, the scientist who submitted the sequences requested in June 2020 that they be deleted because they had been updated and were to be posted to another, unspecified database.

The investigator said they wanted the older version to be removed to avoid confusion, according to the NIH. Chinese researchers initially submitted the sequences to the NIH database in March 2020 and published information about them in a paper on a preprint server, according to the NIH. The paper described the use of an advanced sequencing technology to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

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