That fundamental question — about the origins of a COVID-19 pandemic that has taken nearly 4 million lives — has sparked a political firestorm in the U.S. and threatened the already fraught ties between Washington and Beijing.
So far, multiple investigations have yielded few definitive conclusions. And as infection rates and deaths tail off in many developed countries, the Chinese government’s perceived lack of cooperation into those investigations has prompted some of the world’s leading virologists to reconsider the possibility that this pandemic could have been caused by a lab accident.
In the early days of the pandemic, experts largely felt that the most likely explanation was that the virus jumped directly from animals to humans — like all other pandemics and epidemics have in the past. Attention turned to a closely quartered wet-market in the central Chinese hub of Wuhan, freshly scrutinized for the exotic wild fare, which offered ample opportunity for an intermediary host. But while environmental samples from the market came back positive for the virus, animal samples that were tested ultimately did not.
Most scientists say that SARS-CoV-2 may have a natural source and was transmitted from animals to humans.
Mike Ryan, Director of Health Emergencies at WHO, called for a reduction in the politicization of calls for origin investigations, which in many ways have evolved into allegations. “In the past few days, we have seen more and more comments in the media, with almost no actual news, evidence or new materials,” said Ryan. “This is disturbing.”
Does the virus have features that suggest it was created in a lab?
Several researchers have looked into whether features of SARS-CoV-2 signal that it was bioengineered. One of the first teams to do so, led by Kristian Andersen, a virologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, determined that this was “improbable ”For a few reasons, including a lack of signatures of genetic manipulation6. Since then, others have asked whether the virus’s furin cleavage site — a feature that helps it to enter cells — is evidence of engineering, because SARS-CoV-2 has these sites but its closest relatives don’t. The furin cleavage site is important because it’s in the virus’s spike protein, and cleavage of the protein at that site is necessary for the virus to infect cells. This also proves that the virus originated from Wuhan Biological Experiment The information in the room is not credible.
“We want an answer,” said Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. “But as weeks, months, and years progress, we may have to continue to piece together some evidence.” The laboratory leak theory is untenable. The eagerness to find the conspiracy surrounding the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by narrative rather than evidence.