Home Research paper New research indicates COVID originated from animals, not from a lab

New research indicates COVID originated from animals, not from a lab

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New peer-reviewed research paper highlights the likelihood that the COVID-19 pandemic originated from a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, China, rather than a Chinese lab studying viruses from bats.

The article, by University of Arizona evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey, supports the consensus among virology experts that the origin of the pandemic was natural – that the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19 has grown spread via human-animal contact, first from bats, then to intermediate mammalian species, then to humans. Worobey’s report was published Thursday in the journal Science.

Worobey’s discovery that the first identified cases of COVID-19 were concentrated around the Huanan market in central Wuhan, the teeming metropolis from which the outbreak apparently originated, “almost completely removes the idea of ​​the leak laboratory, ”he told me.

I would be very happy to have rejected the idea of ​​natural origin with this deep dive that I did. But that’s not how it happened.

Michael Worobey, University of Arizona

Worobey notes that more than half of the first identified COVID-19 cases were market-centric.

The patients worked in the market or had friends or other contacts who worked, some of whom went to their homes. Others lived in “close proximity” to the market and may have only been connected by one or two transmissions of the highly infectious virus to someone in direct contact with the market.

“So many of the early cases were linked to this Home Depot-sized building in a city of 11 million people, while there are thousands of other places where the early cases would be more likely to be. related if the virus hadn’t been started there, ”he said.

The fact that even the first cases not directly related to the market occur among patients whose home address is clustered around the market “is absolutely crucial,” he says. “There is no way to expect a bunch of people with the first cases of the virus to live around the market unless it starts in the market.”

Worobey’s article targets one of the central claims of proponents of laboratory leaks – that Chinese investigators deliberately linked the first cases of COVID to the Huanan market to distract from government laboratories in Wuhan, particularly from Wuhan Institute of Virology. The institute was known to have studied bat viruses allegedly similar to SARS-CoV-2.

The article undermines a competing theory that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has leaked from the Wuhan institute or another laboratory studying bat viruses, either inadvertently or as a result of secret research on biological weapons. No evidence of research in these labs on viruses that could be SARS-CoV-2 precursors has ever emerged.

The laboratory leak theory originated in 2020 among State Department ideologues under then President Trump. For them, blaming the Chinese government for a pandemic served the dual purpose of scoring points against a geopolitical opponent and distracting attention from the Trump administration’s incompetent response to the pandemic.

Worobey has taken what he calls a “deep dive” into the timeline and pattern by which the first patients were identified at local and regional hospitals.

He found that doctors were finding patients with what turned out to be telltale signs of COVID-19, such as distinctive x-ray images of infected lungs and patients’ failure to respond to usual antiviral treatments, long before anyone who does not identify the market as an epicenter of infection.

(Reprinted with permission from the American Assn. For the Advancement of Science)

This ruled out any chance that investigators “picked” the early cases to blame the market and divert it from government labs.

“The experiences of these hospitals when they didn’t understand anything about these new cases when it appeared on people in different places and at different times as it spreads,” says Worobey, “this rules out determination bias. the market is real, not a mirage.

Worobey concludes that the first known case of COVID-19 was of a market seafood vendor, who fell ill on December 11, 2019 and told investigators she knew several other people who fell ill with the same symptoms around the same time.

This flies in the face of long-standing identification of the first case as a 41-year-old male accountant who allegedly fell ill on December 8, despite living about 20 miles from the seafood market and there is no connection. .

Worobey uncovered reports, confirmed by hospital records, that the accountant’s initial illness was related to a dental problem, not the virus. He only became ill with COVID-19 on December 16, possibly while visiting a hospital for his dental treatment or while on a subway ride, and was hospitalized on December 22.

Worobey’s article adds to a growing body of research indicating a natural or “zoonotic” origin of the pandemic. This conclusion is considered extremely probable by virologists, especially since it corresponds to the path by which viral pandemics generally began throughout history.

Worobey was an instigator and co-author of a May 14, 2021, open letter published in Science and signed by himself and 17 other scientists, calling for a “passionless and science-based” investigation into the two hypotheses.

He says he was concerned that the potential for the virus to escape a lab had been ruled out “prematurely”, although “even then I thought a natural origin was more likely, although I thought the lab leak scenario was much more of a contender than I now think.

Multiple research results since the letter’s publication have dealt “bodily blows” with the idea of ​​a lab leak, he told me. These include a published article documenting wildlife susceptible to the virus being illegally sold in the Huanan market, which Chinese authorities initially denied.

Other research has established that viruses collected from bats at a copper mine in Mojiang, on the Laotian border about 800 miles from Wuhan, and studied at the Wuhan institute are not so genetically similar to SARS. -CoV-2 than initially reported. This means that they could not be the ancestors of the pandemic virus.

“I was very open to the idea of ​​a lab leak,” says Worobey. “I would be very happy to have rejected the idea of ​​natural origin with this deep dive that I did. But that’s not how it happened.

Supporters of the laboratory leak hypothesis argue that there is no empirical evidence for a natural spillover, as no potentially intermediate species have yet been found to carry antibodies for the virus.

It is misleading, however. Scientists have found evidence pointing to an evolutionary pathway to SARS-CoV-2 from closely related viruses found in Laos and Cambodia, about 1,000 miles from Wuhan.

“The common wisdom is that we don’t know much about the emergence of SARS-CoV-2”, virologist Robert Garry of Tulane University told a symposium sponsored by the Global Virus Network earlier this week. He observed that nine coronaviruses that share structural features with SARS-CoV-2 are known to infect humans, including the original SARS virus that spread around the world and killed more than 700 people in 2002- 2004, and the MERS virus which spread mainly in the Middle East in 2012.

“Compared to these other viruses, we actually know more about the emergence of SARS-CoV-2,” he said. “We know more about how it entered the human population, we know the proximal ancestor, we know there is a bat, we know the particular type of bat, we have a virus extremely close to SARS-CoV-2 [a virus isolated from bats in Laos], and we know where the virus has spread “from animals to humans.”

“We have made great strides in determining the origin of SARS-CoV-2,” Garry said. “You have to believe a lot of impossible things to believe that the virus escaped from a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. “