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Tuesday, March 02, 2021

SARS-CoV-2 might be lab leak

The SARS-CoV-2 virus might be an accidental leak from a lab, created by researchers who have been engineering "gain of function" in coronaviruses to study whether/how they might become pandemic risks for humans. If true, then researchers will have accidentally caused they very tragedy they wanted to prevent.

Here is a short pre-pandemic 2015 article from Nature highlighting the potential risk of such research: Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research. If that article isn't worrisome enough, then follow me down the rabbit hole: 

Fiction-writer Nicholas Baker published a lengthy piece on Jan 4 2021 in New York Magazine exploring the history of gain-of-function research and the lab-leak hypothesis. He points to plausible-sounding work by a pair of scientists, without mentioning that they are husband-and-wife self-published anti-GMO activists. He also invokes the recent work of Yuri Deigin, a biotech entrepeneur who has rebutted in detail the widely-cited March 2020 Nature paper that downplayed the lab-creation theory.

The Wuhan lab that stored a bat virus 96% similar to SARS-CoV-2 was only a few hundred yards from the wet market where the pandemic exploded. Further research on SARS-CoV-2 origins may yet settle this question, but the Chinese government is discouraging investigation into the research history of its Wuhan lab. But what already seems clear is that gain-of-function virus research is reckless. As Deigin tweeted on Feb 28: "Vaccines require clinical trials — that’s the longest and most expensive part. DESIGNING a vaccine against a known virus takes just a few days — Moderna had their candidate within hours of downloading SARS2 genome. See why creating a vaccine for some “potential” virus is BS?"

There's no evidence that the virus was engineered as a bio-weapon. In fact, one argument against that theory is that there is an easy and obvious way to make the virus even better at binding to human ACE2 -- and they describe exactly how to do it! (Arj Barker will have to update his bit about the Discovery Channel leaking info to terrorists.) And if China intentionally started the global pandemic, then they were colossally stupid (or diabolically clever?) to start it 500 yards from their own virus lab inside a major Chinese city.

I had always assumed that nature was as good at designing viruses as humans could be, but now I think I was wrong. Is this a bad time to mention that the smallpox genome has already been fully sequenced and published?

2021-03-07: There seems to be a growing consensus that the 1977 H1N1 Russian flu was a lab escape, because it was virtual identical to a 1950s version that had since dropped out of circulation.

Note that the U.S. government has a limited interest in pursuing the lab-leak hypothesis, as the relevant Wuhan research was funded at least indirectly by the NIH.

Note that as recently as 10 years ago, gain-of-function research arguably gave a head start on sequencing dangerous viral genomes. Now, sequencing techniques are much cheaper and much faster.

1 comment:

Terry said...

Always seemed quite a coincidence that the outbreak started near a laboratory. And for some reason we were involved in funding?