Three years after the appearance of the coronavirus, new data is emerging that links the coronavirus to… raccoon dogs.

An international team of scientists said Thursday they have genetic data from a market in Wuhan linking the coronavirus to raccoon dogs sold there. The data bolsters the theory that the coronavirus emerged from infected animals sold at the Wuhan market, say the researchers involved in the study.

In January 2020, shortly after the market was closed by the health authorities due to suspicions of its connection to the virus, genetic data was extracted. The animals had already been removed, but samples were collected from walls, floors, metal cages and carts often used to transport the animals. When the findings were published last year, Chinese researchers said the samples contained no animal DNA. However, this conclusion has now been overturned by an international team of scientists. Their analysis of gene sequences published by the Chinese team in the scientific database, Gisaid, finds that some of the Covid-positive samples were rich in DNA from raccoon dogs.

Traces of DNA belonging to other mammals, including muskrats, were also found in Covid-positive samples.

The discovery does not prove that raccoon dogs or other animals infected with Covid caused the pandemic, but scientists who presented the work to a panel of experts at the World Health Organization on Tuesday believe it makes it more likely that the coronavirus came from infected animals. .

In recent weeks, the lab leak theory, which claims the coronavirus originated in a research lab in Wuhan, has gained ground in recent weeks thanks to a new intelligence assessment by the US Department of Energy and hearings by Republican House of Representatives. But the genetic data came to offer more tangible evidence of how the virus could have crept into humans from wild animals outside the lab.