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The most important researchers require a real investigation into the origin of covid-19

The most important researchers require a real investigation into the origin of covid-19

The letter, organized by Stanford University microbiologist David Relman and University of Washington Jesse Bloom, is the subject of a joint study by the World Health Organization and China on recent hidden origins, concluding that the bat virus is likely to reach humans. through an intermediate animal and that it was a laboratory accident “Very unlikely.”

This conclusion was not scientifically justified, according to the authors of the new letter, since no trace has been found of how the virus first jumped into humans and the possibility of a laboratory accident received only a superficial appearance. Only a few of the 313 pages of the WHO source report and its annexes are devoted to the subject.

Marc Lipsitch, a well-known epidemiologist at Harvard University who is among the signatories of the letter, said that until recently he did not express an opinion on the origin of the virus, instead focusing on improving the design of epidemiological studies and vaccine trials. partly because the debate over laboratory theory has become very controversial. “I stopped because I was busy dealing with the results of the pandemic instead of the origin,” he says. “[But] When the WHO comes out with a report that makes a detailed claim on an important issue … it’s worth talking about. “

Some of the signatories to the letter, including Lipsitch and Relman, called in the past for a greater study of the “function gain” study as viruses are genetically modified to make them more infectious or virulent. Pathogen engineering experiments were also being conducted at Wuhan Virology Institute, China’s leading center for the study of bat viruses. Some first described it as a circumstance that could have been caused by a covid-19 lab accident that first appeared in the same city where the lab is located.

Before Lipsitch calculated the risk about a pandemic caused by the accidental release of 1,000 to 1 to 10,000 people from a high-security biolab each year, and warned that the proliferation of thousands of such laboratories around the world is a major concern.

Although Chinese scientists have said that there has been no such escape in this case, letter writers say it can only be established through more independent research. “Adequate research should be transparent, objective, data-based, including broad specialization, subject to independent oversight and managed responsibly to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest,” they wrote. “Public health agencies and research laboratories must open their registers to the public. Researchers should analyze and document the veracity and origin of the data that draw conclusions. “

Shi Zhengli, a senior disease scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said in an email that the letter’s suspicions were misplaced and would damage the world’s ability to respond to pandemics. “It’s definitely not acceptable,” Shik said of the call for the band to see their lab records. “Who can give evidence that doesn’t exist?”

“It’s really sad to read ‘Letter’ written by these 18 famous scientists.” Shik wrote in his email. “This type of claim will certainly undermine the reputation and enthusiasm of scientists who are at risk of working on human virus novels that pose a potential risk to human populations and ultimately weaken humans’ ability to prevent the next pandemic.”

Shi Zhengli in the high-security laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Chinese virologist says calling on outsiders to inspect his lab records is “not acceptable.”


The debate over the laboratory escape hypothesis is already very political. In the U.S., Republican lawmakers and conservative media figures have loudly embraced it, including Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson. As a result, polarization has had a tremendous impact on scientists, some of whom have been reluctant to express their concerns, Relman says.

“We felt motivated to say something because science is not about living what it can be, which is a very just and rigorous and open effort to achieve something greater clarity,” he says. “For me, part of the goal was to create a safe space for other scientists to say something of their own.”

“Ideally, it’s a fairly controversial call to have the clearest possible eyes to test viable hypotheses that we have little data on,” says Megan Palmer, a biosafety expert at Stanford University who has no ties to the letter team. “When politics is complex and the stakes are high, it is necessary to remind reputable experts to look carefully at others.”

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