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Scientist Finds Early Coronavirus Sequences That Had Been Mysteriously Deleted

Dr. Worobey indicated that the additional data “will play a large role in that endeavor.”

It’s not clear why this valuable information went missing in the first place. Scientists can ask for the removal of their files by writing an email to the Sequence Read Archives managers. The National Library of Medicine, which maintains the archive said that the 13 sequences had been removed in the summer of 2013.

Renate Myles, spokeswoman for National Institutes of Health, stated that the sequences of SARS-CoV-2 were submitted to SRA for posting in March 2020. However, the investigator requested that they be withdrawn in June 2020.

She said that an unidentified investigator told the archive managers the sequences were being changed and would be added into a different database. Dr. Bloom knows that he has searched every database and failed to locate the sequences. “Obviously I can’t rule out that the sequences are on some other database or web page somewhere, but I have not been able to find them any of the obvious places I’ve looked,” he said.

Three of the co-authors of the 2020 testing study that produced the 13 sequences did not immediately respond to emails inquiring about Dr. Bloom’s finding. Another co-author of the 2020 testing study, Dr. Fu was not listed in that study.

Some scientists have doubts that there was anything sinister involved in the removal of the sequences. “I don’t really understand how this points to a cover-up,” said Stephen Goldstein, a virologist at the University of Utah.

Dr. Goldstein mentioned that the Wuhan researchers had included in the testing papers the specific mutations they found. The sequences have been removed from the archive but the key information has been made public for over one year. It was just hidden away in a format that makes it difficult for researchers to find.

Dr. Goldstein stated: “We all failed to see this relatively obscure paper.”

Dr. Bloom said that it is difficult to say why the viruses were removed. “You can argue that the practical consequence for removing them was that they didn’t exist,” Dr. Bloom said in an interview. He also noted that the Chinese government had ordered destruction of some of the early samples of the virus, and that papers on coronavirus were not allowed to be published without its approval.

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