A new study on the origins of the pandemic, “Endonuclease fingerprint indicates a synthetic origin of SARS-CoV2,” published on the preprint server bioRxiv, concludes that it is highly likely that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 originated in a laboratory. The odds of a natural origin, according to the study, are placed at less than 1 in 100 million.
Unlike previous studies that analyzed qualitative aspects such as virus features, the new study for the first time assesses the likelihood of a laboratory origin on a quantitative basis. This breakthrough methodology allowed the authors to present objective findings that appear to exceed any previous studies.
Significantly, the new study does not rely on any of the known evidence pointing toward a lab origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. For instance, it does not take into consideration the highly unusual Furin Cleavage Site that makes the virus particularly virulent and which it is widely thought to have been inserted into the virus at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Nor does it factor in the huge coincidence that the pandemic started on the door steps of the world’s premier coronavirus laboratory.
Instead, the authors—Valentin Bruttel, a molecular immunologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany; Alex Washburne, a mathematical biologist at Selva Science; and Antonius VanDongen, a pharmacologist at Duke University—took a novel approach that assesses the genesis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from an entirely new angle. The authors examined tiny fingerprints left behind in the process in which viruses are assembled in laboratories. While use of seamless genetic engineering techniques in creating viruses in laboratories typically conceals evidence of manipulation, the new study developed a statistical process for uncovering such hidden evidence by comparing the distribution of certain strands of genetic code in wild viruses and lab-made viruses.
When viruses are constructed in a lab, they are typically assembled by piecing together various virus parts. According to a blog post from Washburne that accompanied the release of the study, it is like taking Mr. Potato Head from the movie Toy Story and replacing his arms with the arms of GI Joe to help “us study things like whether GI Joe arms provide any clear benefit for an important task in the virus life cycle like lifting weights.”
In other words, one of the main purposes of manipulating viruses is to better understand which parts of viruses make them particularly infectious, lethal, or transmissible. A related purpose is to develop bioweapons but the authors of the new study reject the idea that that is why SARS-CoV-2 was made. They believe that the virus “was assembled in a lab via common methods used to assemble infectious clones pre-COVID.”
By Hans Mahncke