I’ve been asked by many to comment on the SARS-CoV-2 origin debate and new Wall Street Journal article. And, honestly, I don’t want to touch this topic with a 10-foot pole. But, I will leave you with a few thoughts: The origin of COVID-19 is an ongoing scientific debate. Scientific consensus has not settled. We can all agree that the Wuhan market was an amplification event (i.e. super spreader), but I don’t think we will ever know how it got there because we’ve missed the window of opportunity for critical data. Disproving the lab leak will be close to impossible. This is a tragedy, but I look forward to seeing the ongoing science we can muster.
One thing too often left unsaid here is the fact that virologists have been at the forefront of dismissing the lab-leak as a conspiracy theory, despite the fact that they have an enormous conflict of interest. This conflict arises from the fact that they want to perform the sorts of experiments which make a lab leak much more likely. These include, most notably, gain of function experiments where they take a related virus isolated from animals and investigate whether they can make it able to infect human cells (or humanised mice). These were exactly the sorts of experiments being performed in Wuhan and they are performed all over the world. The rational for them is that they might help us recognize a potentially dangerous pathogen. This is highly unlikely - and it has never actually happened. What is vastly more likely is that these organisms will infect those doing the experiments and then spread in the community.
There is no justification for doing these types of experiments other than scientific vanity and prestige. They are NOT needed to protect us and they are certainly not needed to make vaccines. THEY SHOULD BE BANNED except under truelly exceptional circumstances.
The main reason virologists dismiss the lab leak hypothesis is that they fear they will be stopped from doing this useless and dangerous research.
As an MD and also having an advanced degree in population genetics and evolutionary biology,I think your positions are mistaken. This virus almost certainly underwent modificatins in a lab prior to its emergence as a worldwide pathogen. One can call it "gain of function". I for one do not feel gain of function research is all bad; in fact under its broad definition we are foolish to let politicians define what research can and can not be done as I see no other way we can keep one step ahead of epidemics. Having said this, it must be done with great caution. Was this some sort of intentional leak; i feel not likely. But you appear foolish to hold on to the theory this jumped from bats to humans in the Wuhan wet market. The Covid spike protien's super strong affinity to the human ACE-2 receptor as well as the furin cleavage site show almost certain modification. This ia a case where epidemiologists need to defer to geneticists and evolutionary biologists. The mere fact that the laboratory records from Wuhan appear to have been purged is pretty incriminating. And to date, no matching Covid virus has yet to have been found in any bat in the world. Similar DNA to other bat coronviruses does not cut it. I would remind you we share over 96% of of our human genome with a chimpanzees but we are an entirely distinct species. Covid -19 most likely emerged from an unfortunate lab leak.
P. Flexon MD
As a philosopher, I would say that when there is a state of epistemic uncertainty, the most prudential option available is to make probabilistic estimations and try to triage the most likely origins. But never to assert that X or Y is the cause because that leads to misallocations of resources if you make a mistake. We should do a lessons-learned study and prepare for the next pandemic no matter what origins it has. Finger-pointing is a total waste of time! 🙂
It seems unlikely that a virus that’s this contagious could have been hiding in nature for the past 10,000 years.
It seems most likely it was a lab leak. Accidental, yes, but not from nature.
I think we can all agree that, regardless of origin, China was not forthcoming during the early days of the pandemic, and failed in their moral duty to alert the world about the novel virus. As a result, if there ever was hope of containment, the world lost its window of opportunity, and now millions are dead.
I can certainly understand why you don't want to touch this topic. It has very unfortunately, become extremely politicized, but at the same time as evidence continues to mount, why does one political side all of a sudden not want to talk about it anymore. Hmm?
I am going to call BS on the idea that this virus was engineered has been "debunked" and a good bit of proof is right in the picture at the link you posted. SARS-CoV2 is clearly RaTG13 with a PRRA insertion which is what make humans susceptible to it. We can go into the weeds about ACE2 receptors and furin cleavage sites, etc. but it's really immaterial because one, no near genetic relatives of RaTG13 have similar protein sequences, two, evolution would be expected to produce protein swaps, not clear insertions, three from what I have read the sequence would likely make bats immune to this bat virus which does not lead to natural evolutionary origins, and lastly the natural origins theory all require us to believe that this happened in Wuhan from a bat population that is about 1,000 miles away in the winter when they would be hibernating.
The natural occurrence theory doesn't hold water, but sure as hell is convenient for the current US administration, which is up to it's eyeballs in causing this pandemic, and it's CCP masters.
Thanks to those commenting and contributing virology information. I would like to contribute some cultural epidemiology information from Thailand, Cambodia, and Lao. I worked for years on avian influenza prevention programs there, helping livestock and health officials disseminate information to each other and to villagers raising poultry. I can speak, read, and write Thai, Lao, and Khmer (Cambodian) languages, so I discussed this information with officials and villagers directly, using interpreters only with other languages, such as Burmese, Hmong, etc.
Some of you commenters were questioning whether gain of function research is worth the risk, and whether it is getting practical results. Yes, virologists and medical staff in those countries, both local and foreign, were following gain of function research. Some knew which characteristics were in pandemic potential viruses a few international-class labs created. For example, I used to print the latest research articles, give them to higher level officials, and explain in their languages. Then they disseminated it to others in their work systems, in meetings, local media, posters, etc. Probably millions knew basic ideas of avian influenza and gain of function research.
When influenza-like illnesses spread among poultry, local livestock staff took samples, and sent them to national-level labs. If the lab found the new sample had H5N1, then local officials and villagers killed every chicken and duck in a several kilometer radius, buried them, and explained the basic virology ideas to people. If the new sample had any similarities to pandemic potential viruses, then they did especially thorough culling and explaining.
Therefore, I hope that governments and scientists place more safety restraints on gain of function research, but do not stop it. People already used the information practically.
I should disclose my conflict of interest; organizations paid me to do this work. I chose to do this, instead of taking other job offers, because I believed these programs were helping people prevent an avian flu pandemic, and because I wanted the money. I would like to work on similar programs again someday.
Thank you for spending Taco Tuesday posting this piece. It’s a very important topic from a preventative, lessons to be learned, going forward what can we do in future basis. There’s nothing we can do to go back into time and change what happened in the past. I like many in the world are glad we got through the worst and the human experts who are credentialed, are trying to move us forward safely , doing their reasonable best in this “novel” environment. I am one who is currently fatigued with the “origins” talk now as it’s too late to put the genie back into the bottle. It’s kind of like revisiting an old trauma event.
"The claim that the virus was engineered is clearly debunked. There’s scientific evidence that it wasn’t an intentional event."
Perhaps not so clearly debunked, and still not settled at all, according to this reply to the article you cited:
We should concentrate on the good that came from the pandemic. The demonstration that RNA vaccines work and that they have a huge potential for many other infectious diseases should be celebrated. Not the political discussion. I am quite sure that if it was a lab leak the Chinese have fixed the problem in their lab. If it came from crossover directly from an animal vector we should just all realize the next pandemic will come in the future and we need to be prepared. Spend our energy on that and not on question of origin which will never be settled.
Further reading for anyone interested:
Viral: The Search for the Origins of Covid - Alina Chan and Matt Ridley explore the two competing hypothesis - I've read almost all of the wave of Covid-related novels published the last 3 years, this was by far the most fascinating
I think this review is fairly balanced, I found the book absolutely fascinating:
The Invisible Siege
This book may have been ghost-written by Ralph Baric, the"titan of coronavirology" and leading expert on Gain of Function, while more high level, it makes the case for Natural Spillover. Author Dan Werb's writing is fantastic at making the seemingly mundane aspect of virology fascinating to the reader
Opinion piece from Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins from 2011 making their case why Gain of Function is important:
Richard Ebright, a harsh critic of Gain of Function research summarizes his stance in this tweet -thread
From 2015, excerpt on Gain of Function background and Alternatives, I found this very informative as it's not weighed down by the politics of GoF
Journalist Katherine Eban did some incredible work in Vanity Fair and ProPublica covering the debate, and while all her pieces are very long, well worth a read
Paul Thacker, in BMJ, makes case that media fell for a disinformation campaign
The covid-19 lab leak hypothesis: did the media fall victim to a misinformation campaign?
Mathematician/Biologist Alex Washburne I think did a great job explaining the DEFUSE proposal from EcoHealth Alliance where they asked DARPA to fund creation of a chimera coronavirus at the WIV which is eerily similar to the Covid19 virus we would find in Wuhan 2 years later
Have about ~100 articles saved in this file, but these are among the most accessible and interesting to me
Doesn’t need much debate - read this highly-researched primary source article on the topic and decide for yourself:
Thank you for this reasoned response to the origin debacle. As a citizen soft scientist often curious about group discovery of common sense, also a former dumpster diver and currently a serial entrepreneur, I desire that greater attention and effort be placed on the waste cycle when decommissioning failed startup labs. Ok, there's a lot to unpack in the earlier sentence.
I summarize with these assumptions and an outcome for your consideration:
Assumption #1: Failed startups have no cash. If this is extended to a failed or failing startup lab then there is insufficient resources for a proper decommissioning and the smart staff leaders have departed earlier.
Assumption #2: Petri dishes and related lab equipment in dumpsters is cool lures to the uninformed.
Assumption #3: Stuff "disappears" without reasonable "adult" supervision.
Thus: An opportunity for a toxic outcome seems inevitably possible.
And now, the headlne is....
"China scoffs at FBI claim that Wuhan lab leak likely caused COVID pandemic"
Now if I were in Intelligence or some other kind of Gummint skullduggery, I'd start wondering how the FBI got involved with international issues. Not their purview, at all.
The fact (or assertion) that it first appeared in a 'wet market' of meats of several wild animal species, including bats..... that just can't be ignored. I would definitely want to see the movie wherein some batsh-t teenage bat hunters go deep into a previously unknown cave and disturb 4-million-year-old batsh-t droppings.
All that aside, I thank all the stars that an mRNA vaccine was developed and has saved millions of lives. mRNA approach should be looked into for a large number of diseases.
Do we know if the sensitivity of home antigen tests is LESS if you have been fully vaccinated or have had previous Covid? I.E. do you have more false negatives? Or is it simply that milder cases are less likely to be positive? Thanks
Dogmatic statements and positions, secrecy, and rapid changes in expert recommendations contribute to "conspiracy theories". Not to mention total reversals. If interested in the experience of clinicians flccc.net is a source of those who have very different conclusions thanthose here. I have long held that the biggest oxymoron in English is "Homo sapiens". Not much sapiens about Homo.
Er.. what's the difference between "natural spillover" and a "lab leak" , in this case?