Lab Leak Breakthrough? DNA Researchers May Have Found the Bioengineered 'Ancestor' to COVID
New information has emerged that could buttress the theory that the coronavirus that has ravaged the globe for two years had its roots in a Chinese laboratory.
Ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus, two main theories have emerged about its origin in Wuhan, China.
One school of thought says this was a naturally occurring virus that jumped from animals to humans in a way that no one has yet established.
The other theory is that the virus — possibly manipulated by researchers — escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, with most who believe the lab leak theory assuming the release to be accidental.
White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci initially derided the lab leak theory but later admitted it was possible. Fauci is linked to the Wuhan lab through research grants to scientists studying viruses, including coronaviruses.
The Daily Mail reported Thursday that the lab leak theory “was given fresh momentum” by research published this week.
Hungarian researchers whose samples of soil from Antarctica were processed by a facility in Shangai reported they were contaminated with coronavirus mutations that in late 2018 and early 2019 were totally unknown to the wider world.
The Antarctic soil “is believed to have been mixed with the DNA from lab monkeys or hamsters carrying coronavirus,” the report said.
A report on the potential ancestor to the coronavirus is available online, but the work of researchers at Eotvos Lorand University and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hungary has not been peer-reviewed.
The information offers tantalizing clues but no firm connections, according to several experts.
“The unique mutations hint at it being an ancestral variant,” Matt Ridley, author of “Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19,” said, according to the Express.
“So if it was sequenced in say mid-December before anybody had identified the virus in people and started trying to grow it in labs, then it points to secret samples in labs in 2019,” he said.
Others had differing opinions.
“The two things that really stand out for me are there are these three key mutations bringing the bat Covid closer to the first Wuhan strain. It is very very suspicious [and could be] a signature of the ancestral Sars-CoV-2,” Lawrence Young, a virologist at England’s Warwick University, told the Daily Mail.
?The variant has mutations that bridge the gap between bat coronavirus and the earliest Wuhan strain, so it may be an ancestral version of the virus pic.twitter.com/7iVkwrvaDY
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) February 9, 2022
Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at the Scripps Research institution in San Diego, said he thinks the traces of coronavirus were from early COVID-19 patients in China.
Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading in the U.K., said the information raises questions more than it answers them.
“It’s very possible [the samples are from] benign relatives or similar relatives of Covid that were circulating at the time and it is quite difficult to prove it is a direct ancestor,” he told the Daily Mail.
Ian Jones, a virologist at Reading, said the study offers a “possible link that nudges the accidental escape story a bit closer.”
“But it does not definitely identify these samples as the progenitor of SARS-2, the actual outbreak strain could have come from a wholly independent event,” Jones said.
“Nor does it show that this variant, which is still closer to the many SARS-like bat viruses known than it is to Wuhan-1, is capable of infecting people, that would have to be assumed to be the case,” he said.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said major nations need to work to determine the cause and limit gain-of-function research, in which viruses are made stronger.
“Not only do we need restrictions in our country,” Paul told Fox News this month in reference to that. “I’m going to be advocating for an international convention of civilized countries to come together and discuss gain-of-function research and the potential harm it could cause on a global scale.”
The senator said, “The chances are that [COVID-19] came from the lab — and … we’re up to approximately 6 to 7 million people dead throughout the world now — and this with about 1 percent mortality. If the next virus that gets out has a 15 percent or 50 percent mortality … we essentially destroy the underpinnings of civilization.”
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