The Origin of COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2: Nothing is proven in any direction, yet the behavior used to assert things that are not possible has been political, not scientific.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists released a rather lengthy document that makes what I consider a decent attempt at documenting the approaches given on three different potential avenues of origin for COVID-19. They quickly do acknowledge that none of the avenues have been proven. In some cases that in itself is proving to be a little damning.
I linked to the article above and you are welcome to read it. I thought it was good information that should be shared. I will highlight some passages that I found particularly interesting and I will comment where I have an interest in doing so. Nothing I write should be taken as fact in this case. I am sharing opinions, and my opinions change rapidly when I am confronted with new information.
By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze.
That paragraph alone may reveal to you why I chose to post about this article.
I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts.
Actually three theories are covered in the article.
Contrary to the letter writers’ assertion, the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy. It surely needed to be explored, not rejected out of hand. A defining mark of good scientists is that they go to great pains to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know. By this criterion, the signatories of the Lancet letter were behaving as poor scientists: They were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.
The emphasis added is my own.
It later turned out that the Lancet letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Daszak would be potentially culpable.
Again the emphasis was added by me. I found this interesting as before I found and read this document I watched Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) grill Dr. Anthony Fauci over some information. To me it is clear that Fauci lied. Sometimes he did it by careful wordplay. The avenue of funding to Wuhan from the NIH through intermediaries has been known for some time.
EcoHealth Alliance of New York is an organization Senator Paul mentions in that video.
There were additional letters from scientists claiming it couldn't be manmade due to certain techniques leaving certain markers. This it turns out is disingenuous and misleading as those are not the only methods that can produce these results. In fact, the "no-see-um" method is mentioned by Senator Paul as he grills Fauci in the above video. It is also mentioned in the document I am writing about. This technique would not leave those markers and is why it was named "no-see-um".
First, they say that the spike protein of SARS2 binds very well to its target, the human ACE2 receptor, but does so in a different way from that which physical calculations suggest would be the best fit. Therefore the virus must have arisen by natural selection, not manipulation.
If this argument seems hard to grasp, it’s because it’s so strained. The authors’ basic assumption, not spelt out, is that anyone trying to make a bat virus bind to human cells could do so in only one way. First they would calculate the strongest possible fit between the human ACE2 receptor and the spike protein with which the virus latches onto it. They would then design the spike protein accordingly (by selecting the right string of amino acid units that compose it). Since the SARS2 spike protein is not of this calculated best design, the Andersen paper says, therefore it can’t have been manipulated.
But this ignores the way that virologists do in fact get spike proteins to bind to chosen targets, which is not by calculation but by splicing in spike protein genes from other viruses or by serial passage. With serial passage, each time the virus’s progeny are transferred to new cell cultures or animals, the more successful are selected until one emerges that makes a really tight bind to human cells. Natural selection has done all the heavy lifting. The Andersen paper’s speculation about designing a viral spike protein through calculation has no bearing on whether or not the virus was manipulated by one of the other two methods.
I provided those three paragraphs which occur exactly as presented to give you one of the arguments, and an observation about that argument. It also is a good example of how this lengthy document is put together.
They also go over the DNA backbone argument in this document and give a good reason why it isn't actually much of an argument.
Doubts about natural emergence. Natural emergence was the media’s preferred theory until around February 2021 and the visit by a World Health Organization (WHO) commission to China. The commission’s composition and access were heavily controlled by the Chinese authorities. Its members, who included the ubiquitous Daszak, kept asserting before, during, and after their visit that lab escape was extremely unlikely. But this was not quite the propaganda victory the Chinese authorities may have been hoping for. What became clear was that the Chinese had no evidence to offer the commission in support of the natural emergence theory.
This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic’s outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months. Yet some 15 months after the SARS2 pandemic began, and after a presumably intensive search, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which SARS2 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to December 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which, however plausible to begin with, had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year.
And as long as that remains the case, it’s logical to pay serious attention to the alternative conjecture, that SARS2 escaped from a lab.
Again the added emphasis is my own.
Ties between the U.S. and China
Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady,” mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses.
Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to “examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs [coronaviruses].” In pursuit of this aim, in November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV). This manufactured virus was able to infect the cells of the human airway, at least when tested against a lab culture of such cells.
The SHC014-CoV/SARS1 virus is known as a chimera because its genome contains genetic material from two strains of virus. If the SARS2 virus were to have been cooked up in Shi’s lab, then its direct prototype would have been the SHC014-CoV/SARS1 chimera, the potential danger of which concerned many observers and prompted intense discussion.
If you read these things you may find yourself wondering if Senator Rand Paul read this as well or at least knew all of these things. Many of these things came up as he grilled Fauci in the above video.
Baric and Shi referred to the obvious risks in their paper but argued they should be weighed against the benefit of foreshadowing future spillovers.
That statement was made in 2015. From the hindsight of 2021, one can say that the value of gain-of-function studies in preventing the SARS2 epidemic was zero. The risk was catastrophic, if indeed the SARS2 virus was generated in a gain-of-function experiment.
There is a lot of additional text in the document leading up to.
What this means, in non-technical language, is that Shi set out to create novel coronaviruses with the highest possible infectivity for human cells. Her plan was to take genes that coded for spike proteins possessing a variety of measured affinities for human cells, ranging from high to low. She would insert these spike genes one by one into the backbone of a number of viral genomes (“reverse genetics” and “infectious clone technology”), creating a series of chimeric viruses. These chimeric viruses would then be tested for their ability to attack human cell cultures (“in vitro”) and humanized mice (“in vivo”). And this information would help predict the likelihood of “spillover,” the jump of a coronavirus from bats to people.
At this point I am going to do less direct quoting unless it is something I find particularly interesting. I will put what is stated here in my own words as best I can. I didn't want to keep doing the just copy and paste with simple comments. If I do that then you end up with a long post and you would be better served simply following the link in the first sentence. In fact, that still may be the case. I leave that for you to decide.
Basically it states that it is definitely possible it originated in a lab. It also makes it clear that this is conjecture at this point. It does cover why it would be done, and the fact that there were groups actively working on what SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) actually is.
It also points out how it was quickly attacked as a Conspiracy Theory before any investigation had been done and without any evidence. This is not scientific. You can't call anything false if you don't yet know the source. Nothing of any kind was known at the point they were already calling it a conspiracy theory.
Much of Shi’s work on gain-of-function in coronaviruses was performed at the BSL2 safety level, as is stated in her publications and other documents. She has said in an interview with Science magazine that “[t]he coronavirus research in our laboratory is conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories.”
“It also is clear,” he adds, “that this work never should have been funded and never should have been performed.”
Furin Cleavage Site
Viruses have all kinds of clever tricks, so why does the furin cleavage site stand out? Because of all known SARS-related beta-coronaviruses, only SARS2 possesses a furin cleavage site. All the other viruses have their S2 unit cleaved at a different site and by a different mechanism.
In the article at nature.com that I linked above on the link "furin cleavage site" they have the following image for showing what is being referred to here.
In this case it has to be a mutation that is different from all known Coronaviruses up to that point, or it was added as a gain of function experiment.
Proponents of natural emergence say SARS2 could have picked up the site from some as yet unknown beta-coronavirus. But bat SARS-related beta-coronaviruses evidently don’t need a furin cleavage site to infect bat cells, so there’s no great likelihood that any in fact possesses one, and indeed none has been found so far.
In the article there are other things about this furin cleavage site that make it even less likely to be naturally occurring. They involve something known as codons. COVID-19 acquired codons that are favored by humans but not present in other Coronaviruses.
The third possibility
I mentioned that actually three possible origins are discussed in this article. The third is a variation on the natural origin hypothesis.
This is the idea that SARS2 jumped directly from bats to humans, without going through an intermediate host as SARS1 and MERS did. A leading advocate is the virologist David Robertson who notes that SARS2 can attack several other species besides humans. He believes the virus evolved a generalist capability while still in bats. Because the bats it infects are widely distributed in southern and central China, the virus had ample opportunity to jump to people, even though it seems to have done so on only one known occasion. Robertson’s thesis explains why no one has so far found a trace of SARS2 in any intermediate host or in human populations surveilled before December 2019. It would also explain the puzzling fact that SARS2 has not changed since it first appeared in humans — it didn’t need to because it could already attack human cells efficiently.
“Tested bat species are poorly infected by SARS-CoV-2 and they are therefore unlikely to be the direct source for human infection,” write a scientific group skeptical of natural emergence.
At this point the article goes into where that leaves us at now. It indicates that neither lab origin or natural origin hypothesis cannot currently be ruled out.
It does point out that the evidence that is available does lean more heavily towards one particular origin (escaping from a lab).
The records of the Wuhan Institute of Virology certainly hold much relevant information. But Chinese authorities seem unlikely to release them given the substantial chance that they incriminate the regime in the creation of the pandemic. Absent the efforts of some courageous Chinese whistle-blower, we may already have at hand just about all of the relevant information we are likely to get for a while.
It then goes into a lot of information that ends up being pretty important. I am going to do a bullet point summary of my own here. I will link to sites that they reference as well since they can be important for research and proper citation.
- Chinese Virologists were performing gain of function experiments in mostly BLS2 labs.
- Chinese authorities have done everything they can to cover up and restrict information. No transparency.
- Worldwide Virologists are a close community that all know each other and write in the same journals, and attend the same conferences.
- "June 2014 to May 2019, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance had a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to do gain-of-function research with coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology."
That grant at the NIH website. I find that very interesting when considering Fauci's comments to Senator Rand Paul.
“Unfortunately, the NIAID director and the NIH director exploited this loophole to issue exemptions to projects subject to the Pause—preposterously asserting the exempted research was ‘urgently necessary to protect public health or national security’ — thereby nullifying the Pause,” Ebright said in an interview with Independent Science News.
When the moratorium was ended in 2017, it didn’t just vanish but was replaced by a reporting system, the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) Framework, which required agencies to report for review any dangerous gain-of-function work they wished to fund.
According to Ebright, both Collins and Fauci “have declined to flag and forward proposals for risk-benefit review, thereby nullifying the P3CO Framework.”
In conclusion. If the case that SARS2 originated in a lab is so substantial, why isn’t this more widely known? As may now be obvious, there are many people who have reason not to talk about it. The list is led, of course, by the Chinese authorities. But virologists in the United States and Europe have no great interest in igniting a public debate about the gain-of-function experiments that their community has been pursuing for years.
And if you thought that Andersen and Daszak might have blotted their reputation for scientific objectivity after their partisan attacks on the lab escape scenario, look at the second and third names on this list of recipients of an $82 million grant announced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in August 2020.
My conclusion. I linked and added some things from other sources in like the video with Senator Rand Paul from CSPAN. I also added some screenshots of some things referred to as I am always a bit paranoid that some things might be scrubbed from the internet. This is also why I quoted as much as I did. I want a record of this information saved on the block chain where it cannot be erased.
I was a bit uncomfortable with how much I actually quoted, but in this case it seemed unavoidable if I still wanted to provide you with good, accurate, and speedy information. In some cases I didn't trust that my own wording would be accurate.
If any of this interested you the original document is very long but is also jam packed with information.