The Wuhan Laboratory’s Leak Theory is more about politics than science Coronavirus

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If Joe Biden’s security guards are up to date, a new report on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic will be put on the president’s desk this week. His team had 90 days to verify the origins of the virus in May after several US scientists said they were no longer certain about the source of Sars-CoV-2.

It will be fascinating to see how Biden’s team answers the critically important questions that still surround the origins of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Was it due to natural virus spillovers from bats to another animal and then to humans? Or did it leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology? And if so, had it been tweaked to make it particularly virulent?

These are important questions, to say the least. If we are to prevent another pandemic, it would be very useful to know how it started. Given the lack of new information Biden’s team will have unearthed over the past three months – while Chinese authorities have continued to provide little additional data – it is unlikely that any hard answers will be given this week.

Though claims of a leak from the Wuhan Institute were voiced by Donald Trump and flatly denied by the Chinese, the claim received little credence until May, when 18 leading scholars mailed the journal a letter science in which they claimed that both spillover and leak theories were equally plausible. They also accused a recent World Health Organization investigation in Wuhan of not considering both scenarios in a balanced way.

News that the laboratory leak theory was being taken seriously by the new US administration sparked an attack from commentators who have since claimed that the scientific establishment had been covering up the mistakes of Chinese scientists. These allegations included one from Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, who claimed that “some scientific journals absolutely refused to publish anything that contradicted the Chinese view”.

The main evidence of a laboratory leak is based on the failure of scientists to locate the intermediate animal that ingested the virus from bats and passed it on to humans. In addition, the Wuhan Institute is home to a laboratory headed by virologist Shi Zhengli, who tracked down the bat origins of the last coronavirus-Sars epidemic.

Her team specializes in coronavirus collection. One of the world’s coronavirus research centers was located in the city where Covid-19 first appeared – a coincidence that some proponents of conspiracies accept too much.

Zhengli has denied claims that she was working to improve a new virus to make it more virulent, or that she or her employees were infected with a new coronavirus that they had collected, a view backed up by a recent review of Scientists in the journal is supported cell: “Despite extensive contact tracing of early cases during the Covid-19 pandemic, no cases related to laboratory personnel have been reported at the WIV [Wuhan Institute of Virology] and all employees in Dr. Shi Zhengli are said to have been seronegative for Sars-CoV-2 in tests in March 2020, “it says.

The fact that Sars-CoV-2 is highly transmissible in humans has also raised the suspicion of a genetic improvement. This notion is rejected by Professor David Robertson of the Center for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow.

“Yes, the virus is spread by asymptomatic carriers and that is perfect for transmission to humans. How does such a natural virus come about? Infecting people is so good, after all. But it’s not just a human virus. We find it in pangolins. It goes from human to mink very easily and has infected deer in the US. It is not a human adapted virus. It’s what we call a generalist or promiscuous virus. “

However, the prospect that Covid-19 emerged from a laboratory leak has been taken very seriously by some senior scientists, including Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust. As he makes clear in his latest book, Spike: The virus against the people, his first – appalled – reaction to the appearance of Covid-19 was that it might have escaped from a virus research center. It was only after intensive consultations with other researchers that he changed his mind.

“As of now, the evidence strongly suggests that Covid-19 emerged from a natural spillover event, but no one has yet been able to rule out an alternative,” he said.

This point is supported by Professor James Wood of Cambridge University. “I think there is very strong evidence that this is caused by natural spillovers, but this argument just doesn’t fit with some political groups. They promote the idea that Covid-19 was caused by a laboratory leak because such a claim distracts attention from mounting evidence suggesting that biodiversity loss, deforestation, and wildlife trafficking – all the dangers of natural spillovers – are the real dangers we face from pandemics. “

In other words, dealing with viruses in laboratories is not the dangerous activity. The real threat comes from the wildlife trade, bulldozing rainforests, and clearing wilderness to make land for farms and gain access to mines. As vegetation and wildlife are destroyed, myriad species of viruses and the bacteria that harbor them are released to seek new hosts such as humans and farm animals. That happened with HIV, Sars and very likely Covid-19.

And that is the real lesson from Covid-19 for many scientists.


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