This will certainly revive the hypothesis that the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan. A team of researchers has discovered several and still unknown coronavirus genomes in laboratories at Wuhan and Huazhong Agricultural Universities. In particular, a new Merbecovirus close to HKU5 was found in a cotton dataset sequenced by Huazhong Agricultural University in 2017. The researchers also found a novel HKU4-related Merbecovirus a close relative to MERS coronavirus in a rice dataset that was sequenced in 2020 by the Huazhong Agricultural University. Additional sequences of infectious clones linked to HKU5 and a Japanese encephalitis virus were also identified in a cotton dataset sequenced by the Huazhong Agricultural University in 2018.
Even more concerning, a new betacoronaviruse similar to SARS-WIV1 was discovered in a rice dataset that was sequenced in 2017 by the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University. “Using the discovered genetic sequences, we were able to assemble complete genomes of two new coronaviruses,” one of which is “very similar” to the Nipah virus, the researchers warn in a study pre-published on the arXiv server.
“The discovery of several dangerous human pathogens in agricultural sequencing laboratories raises concerns that biosafety protocols are being violated,” the authors warn, including concerns that controls in agricultural laboratories are less stringent than in virology laboratories. Hopefully, Chinese universities have tightened their protocols since the emergence of SARS-CoV-2.”