The Huanan seafood and wildlife market has been a focal point in the search for the origin of the coronavirus.
But this is the first peer-reviewed study of biological evidence gathered from the market back in 2020.
By linking the virus with animals sold in the market, it could open new lines of inquiry into how the outbreak began.
The research reveals swabs that tested positive for the virus also contained genetic material from wild animals.
The Chinese research team’s paper showed that some samples – collected from areas where wildlife was being sold – had tested positive for the virus.
Their analysis also showed that animals now known to be susceptible to the virus, particularly raccoon dogs, were being sold alive in those locations.
But the Chinese researchers have pointed out that their discoveries fall short of definitive proof of how the outbreak started.
“These environmental samples cannot prove that the animals were infected,” the paper explains.
The possibility remains, it adds, that the virus was brought into the market by an infected person, rather than an animal.