Early Virus Sequences ‘Mysteriously’ Deleted Have Been Not-So-Mysteriously Undeleted
“A batch of early coronavirus data that went missing for a year has emerged from hiding,” reports the New York Times. (Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, had found copies of 13 of the deleted sequences on Google Cloud.)

Though their deletion raised some suspicions, “An odd explanation has emerged, stemming from an editorial oversight by a scientific journal,” reports the Times. “And the sequences have been uploaded into a different database, overseen by the Chinese government.”
The Times also notes that the researchers had already posted their early findings online in March 2020:
That month, they also uploaded the sequences to an online database called the Sequence Read Archive, which is maintained by the National Institutes of Health, and submitted a paper describing their results to a scientific journal called Small. The paper was published in June 2020… [A] spokeswoman for the N.I.H. said that the authors of the study had requested in June 2020 that the sequences be withdrawn from the database. The authors informed the agency that the sequences were being updated and would be added to a different database… On July 5, more than a year after the researchers withdrew the sequences from the Sequence Read Archive and two weeks after Dr. Bloom’s report was published online, the sequences were quietly uploaded to a database maintained by China National Center for Bioinformation by Ben Hu, a researcher at Wuhan University and a co-author of the Small paper.

On July 21, the disappearance of the sequences was brought up during a news conference in Beijing… According to a translation of the news conference by a journalist at the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency, the vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, Dr. Zeng Yixin, said that the trouble arose when editors at Small deleted a paragraph in which the scientists described the sequences in the Sequence Read Archive. “Therefore, the researchers thought it was no longer necessary to store the data in the N.C.B.I. database,” Dr. Zeng said, referring to the Sequence Read Archive, which is run by the N.I.H.

An editor at Small, which specializes in science at the micro and nano scale and is based in Germany, confirmed his account. “The data availability statement was mistakenly deleted,” the editor, Plamena Dogandzhiyski, wrote in an email. “We will issue a correction very shortly, which will clarify the error and include a link to the depository where the data is now hosted.” The journal posted a formal correction to that effect on Thursday.
While the researchers’ first report had described their sequences as coming from patients “early in the epidemic,” thus provoking intense curiosity, the sequences were, as promised, updated, to include a more specific date after they were published in the database, according to the Times. “They were taken from Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University on January 30 — almost two months after the earliest reports of Covid-19 in China.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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