From the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the origin of SARS-CoV-2 has remained a mystery, but new evidence is raising questions about the type of research being conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and is now causing many to consider the possibility of a leak.
But where did the covid-19 come from? After more than a year of crisis, questions remain about the origin of Sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the current pandemic. In addition, the United States, through its representative, Jeremy Konyndyk, asked the World Health Organization (WHO) this Tuesday for a new investigation “thorough, complete and led by experts on the origin of Covid-19”.
Recent elements have indeed brought back the hypothesis of a leak at the Wuhan laboratory. This possibility was raised at the beginning of the pandemic, although it was sometimes confused with the hypothesis of a man-made virus.
For example, the Wall Street Journal reported recently that three researchers at the Institute of Virology (WIV) in Wuhan were hospitalized in November 2019 with “symptoms suggestive of covid-19 or common seasonal disease.” The information comes from a U.S. intelligence memo. And while not all experts agree on the credibility of the source, according to the Wall Street Journal, this revelation at least comes at a time of great excitement for the Chinese lab theory.
No evidence of animal-to-human transmission has been found yet
Although the WHO investigation finds the hypothesis of a laboratory leak “highly unlikely,” it does not provide evidence of animal-to-human transmission, despite the pangolin trail. That would require finding a virus in an animal that is genetically very close to Sars-CoV-2. More than 80,000 samples from wild, domestic, and farm animals have been tested in the Wuhan market, Hubei region, and other Chinese regions. They were all negative. When a scientific hypothesis has been tested more than 80,000 times, without convincing results, it is normal to question its validity and to test others.
For a few weeks now, everything points to the responsibility of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They have also prompted several researchers to write a letter on the subject in the prestigious journal Science. Especially since this institute has not disclosed the sequences of the viruses it studied. For example, it has been slow to admit that it worked on coronaviruses collected from a mine in 2012 that were responsible for the deaths of several miners from pneumonia.
Incidentally, the natural virus that is genetically closest to SARS-CoV-2, called RaTG13, came from this mine, even though it “does not appear to be the direct ancestor of SARS-CoV-2.
Following the publication of this sequence, the Wuhan lab published the sequences of eight others last month, all from the same mine and thus studied by the lab over several years. Even more worrying, master reports and a dissertation defended at the institute, published by the anonymous Twitter account The Seeker, show that at least one other bat coronavirus has been conserved in the WIV and that this coronavirus is potentially very interesting.
Le Monde a French newspaper states in a recent article to have had access to “a data sheet” mentioning “a funding of 250,000 yuan (32,000 euros) in 2018” for “the study of the pathogenicity of two new bat Sars-type coronaviruses on transgenic mice expressing the human ACE2 receptor” in the Wuhan laboratory.
This new revelation raises questions about the nature of the coronavirus research conducted at the institute. Did Chinese scientists manipulate the virus? One practice that is hotly debated is making viruses more capable of infecting humans so they can be studied more effectively. These are called “gain-of-function” experiments. In 2014, the United States had placed a temporary moratorium on this type of research on coronaviruses and influenza. But in 2015, U.S. researchers had created a chimeric coronavirus that can infect humans.
Either way, whether it was a lab-stored or modified virus, the first question that needs to be answered is how it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.