Washington, May 20
The researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanised mice, and this is exactly the kind of experiment from which a Covid-19-like virus could have emerged, according to a noted British science writer, editor and author.
In a detailed article titled ‘The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan’ published in the prestigious Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists early this month, Nicholas Wade has raised several questions on the origin of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year and caused over three million deaths and wrecked global economies.
The novel coronavirus emerged at central China’s Wuhan city in December 2019 and became a pandemic.
The evidence adds up to a serious case that the SARS2 virus could have been created in a lab, from which it then escaped, wrote Wade, who refers to SARS-CoV-2 virus as SARS2 in short.
“But the case, however substantial, falls short of proof. Proof would consist of evidence from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or related labs in Wuhan, that SARS2 or a predecessor virus was under development there. For lack of access to such records, another approach is to take certain salient facts about the SARS2 virus and ask how well each is explained by the two rival scenarios of origin,” according to him.
Wade said many people know that there are two main theories about its origin — one is that it jumped naturally from wildlife to people and the other is that the virus was under study in a lab, from which it escaped.
“For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer. Wuhan is home to China’s leading centre of coronavirus research where researchers were genetically engineering bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. They were doing so under the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 lab. If a virus with the unexpected infectiousness of SARS2 had been generated there, its escape would be no surprise,” he said.
The “proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favour natural emergence,” he wrote.
“It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising,” he said.
“In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanised mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses. What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2’s creation?” he wrote.
The origins of the Covid-19 pandemic remain a widely debated topic, with some scientists and politicians maintaining that the possibility of a lab leak of the deadly virus exists. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is near the outbreak’s known epicentre of Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan.
Former US president Donald Trump was among those who supported the theory that the virus might have escaped from a bio lab in China.