The possibility that a virus leak from a lab caused the COVID-19 pandemic was trashed by leading virologists in New Zealand. This is in addition to mounting views from the scientific community that Covid-19 has a natural origin.
The virologists urged scientists to find the animal that acted as an intermediary between bats and humans for the outbreak. This is according to an article reported in the NZ Herald newspaper on June 3rd.
History of zoonotic transmissions
Dr Jemma Geoghegan, a virologist at Otago University, works with David Hayman, an infectious disease ecologist from Massey University. According to both of them, there is a history of zoonotic transmission found in coronaviruses.
In the first instance, bats were involved in at least seven coronaviruses, including viruses responsible for SARS and MERS. An intermediary animal is also included in the transmission of the viruses. For example, in spreading SARS, civet cats were the intermediary host. For the second infection, MERS, camels hosted the virus.
The last 20 years has seen five of the coronaviruses emerging, according to Geoghegan. She says the intermediary source of the SARS-CoV-2 which is responsible for COVID-19 still remains unknown.
Geoghegan said “In fact, we don’t know where most of the viruses that infect us have come from.” “This is why we need to sample more viruses in nature and expand our knowledge of the diversity of viruses that exist.”
More coronaviruses coming to light
Hayman says more novel coronaviruses are coming to light through the ongoing research of scientists.
Geoghegan said that some of the farmed wild animals could provide an intermediate host for the virus to jump to humans. We can take ferret-badgers and rabbits as examples.
Hayman said the farms could well be in places where there was a greater diversity of bat viruses than in Wuhan. This could be due to their complex commodity chains. Unfortunately, the pandemic first began in Wuhan.
Both Geoghegan and Hayman say there is a 96 percent similarity between the genome sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 and the coronavirus found in horseshoe bats.
No sign of human manipulation
The virus’ genetic template shows no sign of human manipulation, according to the experts.
Their theory is the SARS-CoV2 virus is the result of natural selection rather than genetic engineering. This is because the spike protein of the virus could bind the human cells very effectively.
To develop a new coronavirus as a pathogen (virus), scientists need to engineer the backbone of a previously known coronavirus.
However, the backbone from the SARS-CoV-2 differs greatly from known viruses according to scientists. So far, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is mostly similar to viruses found in bats and pangolins.
Jonathan Stoye is group leader of the Retrovirus-Host Interactions Laboratory at the UK’s Francis Crick Institute. Stoye says “The genome of SARS-CoV-2 shows more than 1,000 individual differences from its closest known relative.”
It is extremely improbable or next to impossible that the virus was grown in a lab. This is because of the rate of nucleotide change observed in the variants spreading to humans in the past year.
Therefore, Stoye concludes, “It, therefore, remains most likely that the immediate ancestor to SARS-CoV-2 exists in the wild and is still to be found.”
US politicians announced further investigation into the possibility the novel coronavirus leaked from a laboratory in central China’s Wuhan. This will result in a revival of the “lab leak theory”.
Such a theory was reiterated as “extremely unlikely” by the scientific community and leading global health organizations including the WHO.
Geoghegan asks “Why would these scientists be working on a random secret bat virus and not have published anything on it previously?”
She said “Those that do gain-of-function experiments work on really well characterized viruses. There would be really close genetic relatives of the virus published before. But for SARS-CoV-2, there isn’t. Even the closest viruses in bats and pangolins are too divergent to be a starting point.”
Hayma said only a massive conspiracy could back the lab escape theory. However, is no evidence reported so far to support it. To sum up, the outbreak being a natural event has a huge amount of data to support it.
Hayma said “This discussion would have gone away if it hadn’t have happened in China.”
11th June 2021 23:00
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