Like almost all science journalists, the idea that Covid would appear at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (IVW), the city of origin of the pandemic, has been dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Not after reading a report by veteran Nicholas Wade on the Medium website at the suggestion of another animal, Álvaro Pereira Júnior.
Not that Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro rightly spread the news that the Sars-CoV-2 virus was made by Chinese to bring the world to its knees, far from it. But no one has proven that they were completely wrong; It cannot be ruled out that the corona accidentally escaped from the IVW.
Wade thoroughly reconstructed the pros and cons of the two competing explanations for the virus’ appearance. The most widely accepted indicates that bats are a natural repository of the pathogen that would have jumped onto humans from an unidentified host (pangolins have been mentioned, but there is no evidence of this).
The other theory is that Sars-CoV-2 infected people from the laboratory of virologist Shi Zengli at the IVW, possibly his staff. Neither hypothesis can be ruled out, but Wade – a journalist who has studied genetic engineering since its inception in the 1970s – argues that the evidence supports the latter.
First, some reasons he had queued against declaring a natural origin for the zoonosis. No population of bats has been found with this particular variety of coronavirus, which incidentally have difficulty infecting them, nor with the intermediate animal.
Caves, where there are many suspicious chiropters, are 1,500 km from Wuhan, and the beetles do not fly more than 50 km. There is no biological or molecular evidence that Sars-CoV-2 has undergone changes characteristic of the adaptations expected in a long inter-species transfer process.
There is no medical record of atypical pneumonia nearby where bat and human populations are in close contact (this is not the case with Wuhan). Previous cases of Covid have been discovered that had nothing to do with the market, which was originally cited as a base in the city.
Articles by critics of conspiracy theory claim that the new coronavirus does not bear the “scars” typical of laboratory-built viruses. Wade counters that there are other techniques to modify their genomes that would not leave the traces skeptics seek.
Shi specialized in collecting bats and beta coronaviruses in caves and in the genetic manipulation of the pathogen. The experiments involved “gain in function”: modification of proteins such as S (Spike) to increase infectivity in human cells under the pretext of acquiring knowledge in order to identify wild varieties with pandemic potential.
In the fall, before the Covid outbreak was detected in Wuhan, IVW officials fell ill with symptoms compatible with Covid and were hospitalized. The Chinese government sealed all the institute’s records and documents and controlled the steps taken by the WHO commission investigating the origin of Sars-CoV-2, which is far from conclusive.
The report lists intricate technical details that indicate a laboratory leak. Things like sequences of genetic “letters” (bases), which are typical of humans, which are used in experiments to obtain function, also by Shi – ironically with funds from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Reading Wade’s investigation becomes mandatory. Especially for those who, like me, very much rejected an artificial origin for the new coronavirus because Trump and Bolsonaro could only have a lie.
PRESENT LINK: Did you like this column? The subscriber can release five free hits of each link per day. Just click the blue F below.