More than eight months after SARS-CoV-2 emerged as a global threat, there is still no clarity about its origins. Those who suspect that the virus was developed in a laboratory are frequently dismissed as conspiracy theorists, but there is growing evidence to support the suggestion that gain-of-function research has made SARS-CoV-2 particularly virulent.
Article Audio Digest
- Researchers say there’s evidence within the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that suggests the virus is a product of genetic manipulation.
- Exiled Chinese scientist Li-Meng Yan says SARS-CoV-2 is an “unrestricted bioweapon” and there’s been “large-scale, organised scientific fraud”.
- Six miners in Yunnan, who were removing bat faeces from a cave, suffered a severe pneumonia-like illness in 2012 and three of them died. They had a high fever, dry cough, sore limbs, and headaches – all symptoms associated with Covid-19.
- A database containing information about the sequencing of samples collected from the Yunnan mine by researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been taken offline.
- There are said to be sequences of HIV-1 in the SARS-CoV-2 genome.
- American and Chinese scientists have collaborated for decades on gain-of-function research.
- There have been numerous ‘leaks’ of viruses from laboratories, including during the SARS outbreak in 2003–2004.
While some scientists still argue that SARS-CoV-2 is a product of natural evolution, others consider an accidental or deliberate leak from a laboratory to be a valid hypothesis that merits further investigation. For decades, gain-of-function research, which alters viruses to increase their transmissibility, pathogenicity, virulence or lethality, has been carried out by American and Chinese scientists working in collaboration. There have been numerous ‘leaks’ of viruses from laboratories, including during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that occurred in 2003–2004.
Those who suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may well have originated in a laboratory include the Norwegian virologist Birger Sørensen, the French scientist and Nobel prize winner Luc Montagnier, and the exiled Chinese scientist Li-Meng Yan, who says that SARS-CoV-2 is an “unrestricted bioweapon” and there has been “large-scale, organised scientific fraud” in covering up the truth.
Yan and others say there is evidence within the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 genome that suggests it is a product of genetic manipulation.
Proponents of the natural spillover theory allege that the virus jumped species, possibly via an intermediary host, to cross over to humans via the wildlife trade or by other means. The main research that is cited in defence of the natural-origin hypothesis is that conducted by Kristian G. Andersen et al. who say it is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related coronavirus. Andersen et al’s findings have been challenged, however.
Working behind the scenes, there is a team of scientists, journalists, and other independent researchers who refer to themselves collectively as DRASTIC (Decentralised Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating Covid-19). They investigate anomalies in the narratives about SARS-CoV-2, collect and present evidence, and put forward questions and hypotheses. One of the issues raised by the DRASTIC team is the fact that a database containing unpublished information about the sequencing of samples collected by researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) on trips to an abandoned copper mine in Yunnan has been taken offline.
Six of the men who were working in the mine, removing bat faeces from a cave, suffered a severe pneumonia-like illness in 2012. Three of them died. The miners had a high fever, dry cough, sore limbs and, in some cases, headaches – all symptoms that are now associated with Covid-19.
“The WIV’s wild animal virus database and its password-protected section containing unpublished virus sequences are no longer available publicly, and even the pages describing it have now been taken offline,” the DRASTIC team said.