In the past few weeks, the debate over the genesis of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has grown to a level of urgency that has not been seen since the current pandemic began. A letter published by researchers at the prestigious journal Science, as well as research under the auspices of the American government, questioned the possibility that the virus could have originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, rather than directly from an animal farmer in Nature.
It is evident that this type of debate is a complete disinformation disk. I have therefore written this column point by point as a brief guide for the confused. Let’s go to them.
1) There is still no direct evidence of laboratory leaks or new data. This seems to me to be a very important and little mentioned element. The discussion on this topic has not been revived due to “positive” evidence – i.e. direct data suggesting the leakage of Sars-CoV-2 from the Chinese laboratory. Such data do not currently exist.
The proof is actually “negative”. This means that no virus has yet been found in animal hosts (wild or domestic) that is identical to humans, which is the full reconstruction of the development path of Sars-CoV-2 or the approximate time and place where it is prevented the leap from animals to humans. This point keeps the possibility of spread in the laboratory open.
2) Leaving a laboratory is not the same as an intentionally made biological weapon. The “laboratory hypothesis” is actually a family of hypotheses. The virus may have been collected and studied by animal researchers until it accidentally leaked and started the pandemic.
It could also be that a virus of natural origin has been modified in experiments to understand how these pathogens acquire properties that are dangerous to humans. Then this altered shape would have escaped by accident.
Finally, there would be an intentional modification for use as a biological weapon. It is almost impossible to find a serious scientist who thinks that the third possibility of item 2 is more likely than the first and second.
3) Care must be taken before determining that the Sars-CoV-2 is “constructed”. This point is a little more complex to explain. Some proponents of the laboratory hypothesis have emphasized the fact that the precise combination of molecular structures that allow the virus to couple efficiently to human cells, as has not yet been identified in its relatives in nature, would be so unusual that it just did could have been created through genetic manipulation. They also draw attention to the fact that the bat coronavirus, the closest thing to Sars-CoV-2, has been identified a long way from Wuhan (and of course does not contain the “ready to attack humans” molecule combination).
For now, it seems safer to say that these ideas are at most half-truths. The reason is simple: we only know the tip of the iceberg of the viral diversity carried by wildlife, and the research effort a few months after the pandemic, as much as it has studied tens of thousands of animals and people, is far from exhausting the potential Virus reservoirs.
In addition, it is worth noting that to date, no newly emerging pathogen has originally come from a laboratory and the vast majority originated in the wild. There can always be a first time, of course, but we need very solid evidence to back extraordinary hypotheses.
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