Sales Executive in ICICI Bank | Posted on | Science-Technology
When Andersen, an infectious disease researcher at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., first heard about the coronavirus causing an outbreak in China, he wondered where the virus came from.
But shortly after the virus’s genetic makeup was revealed in early January, rumors began bubbling up that maybe the virus was engineered in a lab and either intentionally or accidentally released. An unfortunate coincidence fueled conspiracy theorists, says Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is “in very close proximity to” the seafood market, and has conducted research on viruses, including coronaviruses, found in bats that have potential to cause disease in people. “That led people to think that, oh, it escaped and went down the sewers, or somebody walked out of their lab and went over to the market or something,” Garry says.
“We said, ‘Let’s take this theory — of which there are multiple different versions — that the virus has a non-natural origin ... as a serious potential hypothesis,’ ” Andersen says.
Anyone hoping to make an epidemic would wish to figure with already known viruses and engineer them to possess desired properties.
But the SARS-CoV-2 virus has components that differ from those of previously known viruses, in order that they had to return from an unknown virus or viruses in nature. “Genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 isn't derived from any previously used virus backbone,” Andersen and colleagues write within the study.
Other scientists agree. “We see absolutely no evidence that the virus has been engineered or purposely released,” says Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist at the University of Basel in Switzerland. She was not part of Andersen’s group, but is a member of a team of scientists
with Nextstrain.org that is tracking small genetic changes in the coronavirus to learn more about how it is spreading around the world.
That finding debunks a widely disputed analysis, posted at bioRxiv.org before peer review, that claimed to find bits of HIV in the coronavirus, Hodcroft says. Other scientists quickly pointed out flaws in the study and the authors retracted the report, but not before it fueled the notion that the virus was engineered.