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Scientists say the SARS-CoV-2 laboratory leak hypothesis should not be ruled out

Scientists say the SARS-CoV-2 laboratory leak hypothesis should not be ruled out


Metzl says scientists say their suspicions of a potential laboratory leak were a career suicide, especially when there was a long history of outbreaks of viral diseases that spilled from nature. Alina Chan is the opinion of a postdoctoral fellow specializing in gene therapy and cell engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Chan says the risk of questioning the orthodoxy of SARS-CoV-2 of natural origin is a completely plausible hypothesis, saying he believes scientists established in infectious diseases have a supervisory role and support staff. He has spent the last year demanding more analysis of the potential leak in the lab, claiming he has less to lose as a postdoc.

Vitriola also hides a broader imperative, Relman says, knowing the origin of the virus is key to stopping the next pandemic. Threats of laboratory accidents and natural spills are growing at the same time as humans are constantly moving to wild places and new biosafety laboratories are becoming more and more common around the world. “That’s why the question of origin is so important,” Relman says.

“We need a better understanding of where our resources and effort are located,” he added. And if the SARS-CoV-2 lab release is compelling, Relman says, “then it’s worth a lot more attention.”


If SARS-CoV-2 was transmitted to humans from the wild, how and where did this happen? A year after the pandemic began, questions remain open. Scientists are still wondering whether they passed from bats infected with viruses (known reservoirs to hundreds of different coronaviruses) or through a species of animal to humans. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was initially thought to be the source of a potential spill, where the first batch of covid-19, a virus-induced disease, was found. But new evidence suggests that animal or human infections may have been circulating in other places a few months earlier, and since then attention has spread to other markets in the city. Wildlife farms in southern China, and other possible scenarios, such as the consumption of virus-infected frozen meat from other provinces.

It is important that the immediate ancestors of the virus have not yet been identified. The closest known relative, coronavirus called RaTG13, genetically contains 96% of SARS-CoV-2.

Meanwhile, the virus that escaped from the laboratory would enter the world by a researcher or technician who has been infected with it. These types of lab leaks have happened before, and were involved several cases in SARS outbreaks of community transmission in the early 2000s. In 2017, the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the first laboratory in mainland China to receive the designation of Level 4 Biosafety (BSL-4), the highest security status for a research space. But the institute also has a history of questionable security practices. Laboratory scientists have reported a lack of properly trained technicians and researchers at the facility, and have encouraged U.S. diplomatic scientists to visit them in 2017 and 2018. to warn Department of State. At the same time, many scientists have pointed out, especially after a recent one, and for some conflicting, in the study of the laboratory escape hypothesis New York Magazine, coronaviruses are typically manipulated with BSL-2 or BSL-3 at lower safety levels.

Aside from such remarks, one of the most prevalent theories among laboratory fugitives is that SARS-CoV-2 was not brought to the Wuhan Laboratory, but was somehow designed there, as many local scientists conduct genetic research on coronaviruses and may even have . “Collaborated with the Chinese military on secret publications and projects,” according to the US State Department technical file released by the Trump administration last week. On March 9, a Washington Post article author, citing an unnamed State Department official, suggest The Biden administration – while refusing to accept a particular theory about the origin of the virus – did not discuss many of the points contained in that fact sheet.

However, skeptics questioning the laboratory escape hypothesis say that SARS-CoV-2 does not have an engineering virus. Instead of appearing in discrete pieces, as might be expected with a genetically engineered microbe, the differences with RaTg13 are randomly distributed in the viral genome. Bernard Roizman wrote in a message to the University of Chicago emeritus professor of virology at Undark that “many genes are missing many years to fully understand the function and regulation of viruses – key elements in building deadly viruses.”

The virus does not have one explicit feature: the so-called “furin rupture site” that helps SARS-CoV-2 penetrate into human cells. Although such sites are present in some coronaviruses, no known relatives of SARS-CoV-2 have been found. “We don’t know where the furin site comes from,” says microbiologist Susan Weiss, a microbiologist who runs the Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens Research Center at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s a mystery.” Although Weiss says SARS-CoV-2 is unlikely to be designed, he added that the possibility of escaping from a laboratory cannot be ruled out.

Stanford microbiologist David Relman believes the laboratory’s escape hypothesis was never given a fair hearing.

ALBERTO E. RODRIGUEZ / GETTY IMAGES

Relman says also possible Scientists working with undetected and even more closely related coronaviruses — mostly a furin splitting site and another at the backbone of the SARS-CoV-2 gene — may be tempted to create a recombinant virus to study its properties. In fact, early researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology failed to disclose Eight other SART-type coronaviruses were found in samples collected from the same mine cave as RaTG13. Workers who washed bat droppings in a cave near Yunnan province near Laos went on to develop serious respiratory illnesses and one of them died.

Petrovsky looks at another potential scenario, namely that it could evolve from coronaviruses that have entered SARS-CoV-2 laboratory cultures. Related viruses from the same culture, such as one optimized to bind humans to ACE2 and another, can exchange genetic material to create new strains. “This has happened in our lab,” he says. “One day, you’re working on the flu, and one day you sequence it, and you say,‘ Holy shit, where did this other virus come from in our culture? ‘Viruses are evolving all the time, and it’s easy to get the virus into your culture without you knowing it.” Petrovsky and several co-authors speculated on a paper published as a prepress that was not revised in May last year, the virus was “completely natural” or “created with a recombination event that occurred unintentionally or intentionally in a laboratory that manipulated coronaviruses”. Petrovsky emphasizes that the group did not “say this is a laboratory virus,” but rather “present our data”.

But in late April 2020, when Petrovsky’s team was thinking about where to publish his work, Petrovsky said he had reason to believe that the virus was “thrown by Trump” out of a Chinese lab. And at that point, he added, many of the “left-wing media” decided that “they would paint everything in the lab as a conspiracy theory to overthrow Trump.” When Petrovsky approached the bioRxiv administrators of the prepress server, he refused the paper. BioRxiv staff responded that it would be distributed more appropriately after peer review, “which left us stunned,” Petrovksy says. “We thought all the pre-printing was to get important information out quickly.”

It was paper then published on another print server called arXiv.org, based at Cornell University. He was soon called in by journalists, but most were from the right-wing news outlets, representing what Petrovski called the “Murdoch press”. Petrovsky says some former journalists had to start distorting the findings of his paper to complete the unmanufactured SARS-CoV-2 narrative. And at the same time, he says other media outlets tried to “make fun of every possibility of the lab thing”.





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