Long article about lab escape theory
Two theories for origin of covid:
- Jumped from animal to human
Escaped from a research lab
Wuhan is home to world leading cengter for research into coronaviruses
- Initial speculation of non-natural origin was condemed by scientists
- Initial letter condeming Wuhan lab escape theory was authored by a funder of that same lab. The letter concealed/denied conflict of interest.
- Condemation is based looking for older style markers of viral manipulation. New "seamless" methods for viral manipulation are less easy to detect than old methods
Two arguments against lab escape theory from one of those letters:
- Spike protein is physically compatible with ACE2 receptor in humans, which implies natural selection as opposed to intelligent design. Counter argument is scientists can use/accelerate selection process.
- Coronavirus research is based off DNA backbones, and the SARS2 virus is not based off any known DNA backbones. Counter argument is DNA backbones are easy to make.
More harshly worded counter argument is here: https://harvardtothebighouse.com/2020/03/19/china-owns-nature-magazines-ass-debunking-the-proximal-origin-of-sars-cov-2-claiming-covid-19-wasnt-from-a-lab/, titled "China owns Nature magazine’s ass: ...". Claims China censored 1,000 articles in Nature magazine over last several years.
As a counter factual, author cites the research into SARS1 and MERS:
- Intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within 4 months of that outbreak
- Intermediary host species of MERS was identified within 9 months of that outbreak
So far (15 months into outbreak) no intermediary host species has been identified for SARS2.
Research into viral manipulation is called "Gain of function" research. Some examples:
- Scientists have recreated the 1918 flu virus
- Scientists have synthesized almost extinct polio virus based on DNA sequence
- Scientists have added smallpox gene to a related virus
(! Sounds pretty crazy and dangerous)
In 2015, head of the Wuhan lab and a U of North Carolina researcher took backbone of SARS1 virus, and replaced the spike protein on it. This chimera virus was able to attach to human cells.
Author argues that in retrospect, gain of function research was not valuable, but potentially dangerous. First part I agree with, since it was mRNA technology that produced the most effective vaccines.
Head of Wuhan lab received funding from a US organization to produce a new coronavirus with the highest possible level of infectuousness for human cells. This is publicly documented due to US government grant disclosure rules.
Quote from the US grant provider in an interview in December 2019:
Dr. Daszak: And we have now found, you know, after 6 or 7 years of doing this, over 100 new sars-related coronaviruses, very close to SARS...coronaviruses — you can manipulate them in the lab pretty easily. Spike protein drives a lot of what happen with coronavirus, in zoonotic risk
And then a denial in April 2020:
Dr. Daszak: The idea that this virus escaped from a lab is just pure baloney. It’s simply not true
Some info on gain of function safety levels:
- BSL4 is the highest safety level for these labs
- BSL4 is cumbersome and annoying, everything takes twice as long
- According to an interview with Science magazine, head of Wuhan lab says coronavirus research in her labe was at BSL2 or BSL3 levels.
- BSL2 requires wearing lab coats, gloves, not using pipettes, and putting up warning signs. US dentists offices have this safety level.
Summary of 2 scenarios:
1) Place of origin
- Closest natural relative of SARS2 is bats in Yunnan, ~1500km from Wuhan
- In comparison, Wuhan virus lab is, indeed, in Wuhan
2) Natural history
- SARS1 had 14 documented changes that adapted it to attack humans
- In comparison, SARS2 does not have any such documented changes
- Initial SARS2 genomes had limited genetic diversity
3) Furin cleavage site
- Something complicated about how viruses infect human cells
- Supposedly, SARS2 has a mechanism unique among beta-coronaviruses
- I am not smart enough to make heads or tails of this argument, but author claims mutation is a less plausible explanation for this mechanism
- The furin cleavage DNA sequence uses a codon pattern not found in any other beta-coronaviruses
- The author claims this fact is difficult to explain using a natural emergence theory. He claims the codon pattern seen in the virus is common in labs.
- Counter argument from natural emergence theory is that virus mutation is very common/frequent
- Once again, I'm not smart enough to evaluate this argument
Final theory from the author: what if coronavirus researchers travelled around China, and naturally contracted SARS2 on one of these trips?
Author finds arguments for lab escape more compelling, primarily beacuse of lack of naturaly history evidence for natural emergence, and the implausbility of the furin cleavage site DNA.