Scientists have found traces of coronavirus that could bolster the theory that the pandemic began with a leak from a laboratory, Daily Mail reported.
The discovery, from analysis of soil samples, suggests the coronavirus may not have jumped from wildlife into humans naturally, the report said.
Scientists in Hungary found traces of a unique variant of coronavirus while examining DNA from soil from Antarctica that had been sent to the firm Sangon Biotech in Shanghai.
The researchers also found genetic material from Chinese hamsters and green monkeys, which may suggest the virus was being examined in a lab, using either the animals themselves or their cells, the report said.
Some of those who support the lab leak theory suggest Chinese scientists engineered the virus in a lab to make it more dangerous as part of an experiment, before the virus escaped.
Viscount Ridley, author of Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19, suggested the latest evidence may support the lab leak theory due to the presence of ‘three key [Covid] mutations’ that are characteristic of the earliest sequences of the virus.
However, the findings must be interpreted with caution, as the soil DNA may have been contaminated with the virus by the first Covid patients, who were reported by China in December 2019.
The soil samples were sent in the same month to Sangon Biotech but it is not clear when they were analysed.
The findings, from Eotvos Lorand University and the University of Veterinary Medicine, both in Budapest, have been published online but not yet formally reviewed by other scientists.
Professor Jesse Bloom, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle in the US, re-ran the data from Hungary to confirm that the Antarctic samples did contain the virus, the report said. But he said the ‘ultimate implications remain unclear’.