“The lab-origin theory is predicated on the fact that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)…has long been at the forefront of China’s research on bat coronaviruses.”
Legal Insurrection readers will remember that I was persuaded early on in the pandemic (i.e., Feb. 16, 2020) that the coronavirus at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic likely came from the Chinese research laboratory in Wuhan. The main question I had was whether the virus was “natural” or the result of gene-modification technology that is the hot, new thing in biological research.
Now we have reports of a classified study of SARS-CoV-2’s origin. conducted a year ago by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Department of Energy’s premier biodefense research institution. They determined the virus could have originated in a laboratory in China.
Researchers at Livermore’s “Z Division,” the lab’s intelligence unit, issued the report May 27, 2020, classified “Top Secret.” Its existence is previously undisclosed. The Z Division report assessed that both the lab-origin theory and the zoonotic theory were plausible and warranted further investigation. Sinclair has not reviewed the report but confirmed its contents through interviews with multiple sources who read it or were briefed on its contents.
In an email to Sinclair, a Livermore spokesperson confirmed the existence of the report but declined to provide additional information. “Because the report you are referring to is classified,” wrote Lynda Seaver, director of public affairs, “it would be inappropriate for our lab to discuss this.”
Avril Haines, the new director of national intelligence, testified that the U.S. intelligence community is actively investigating both theories. “We just don’t know exactly where, when, and how the coronavirus was transmitted initially,” Haines told the House intelligence committee on April 15.
“We have two plausible theories that we are working on that components within the intelligence community have essentially coalesced around. One of them is that it was a laboratory accident, and the other is that it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals.”
The originated in a lab theory is somewhat backed up by a State Department fact sheet:
The lab-origin theory is predicated on the fact that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) – located, like the wet markets, in the central Chinese city that was the epicenter of the outbreak – has long been at the forefront of China’s research on bat coronaviruses.
According to a “fact sheet” released by the State Department on January 15, WIV personnel work closely with the Chinese military and have conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus with the closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2 percent). The lab has also published findings from “gain-of-function” research, which is aimed at increasing the transmissibility of viruses among humans.
It is not unheard of to work with viruses for scientific reasons, but also make super viruses:
This area of scientific activity, experts told Sinclair, carries a “dual-use”: It supports the development of new vaccines and therapeutics but can also be used in covert biological- and chemical-weapons programs, which China is suspected of maintaining. The State Department fact sheet said China is working “to engineer chimeric viruses.” In its 2021 report, issued this month, the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC) said the “dual-use applications” of China’s scientific research “raise concerns about its compliance with Article I” of the Biological Weapons Convention enacted in 1975, to which China is a signatory. That article prohibits member states from pursuing biological weapons.
The “dual use” of gain-of-function research has in turn divided proponents of the lab-origin theory into two main camps. Both believe SARS-CoV-2 accidentally “leaked” from WIV personnel, but one camp attributes the accident to legitimate medical research, the other to prohibited biological-weapons research.
Interestingly, Nicholas Wade (a science writer with an actual degree in natural sciences and has been previously published in Nature, Science, and the New York Times) took a detailed look at the two theories: Laboratory origin or animal-to-human transmission. The post is an excellent summation of many of the topics I have addressed previously and with many compelling details.
In a nutshell: Wade demonstrated the most logical conclusion one can draw from all the available evidence is that the coronavirus is likely a modified virus, which came from an accidental release in the laboratory. He evaluates many critical points. He includes the possibility the Chinese scientists were not working at the appropriate level of biological safety needed to handle these viruses (bat virus work was conducted at a BSL2 instead of the more protective BSL4 level).
Wade also noted that the coronavirus has a sequence of 2 codons (3 nucleotide sequence that forms a unit of genetic code in a DNA or RNA molecule for a specific amino acid), which has no natural equivalent in bat viruses. In terms of the viral structure, he said when considering the lab escape scenario, the presence of the “double CGG codon” coding for the amino acid arginine would be no surprise. The human-preferred codons are routinely used in labs.
Wade served up a harsh and exceedingly refreshing critique of all the “scientists” and “experts” who denounced the lab origin theory before we all knew the details.
From early on, public and media perceptions were shaped in favor of the natural emergence scenario by strong statements from two scientific groups. These statements were not at first examined as critically as they should have been.
“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” a group of virologists and others wrote in the Lancet on February 19, 2020, when it was really far too soon for anyone to be sure what had happened. Scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they said, with a stirring rallying call for readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.
Contrary to the letter writers’ assertion, the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy. It surely needed to be explored, not rejected out of hand. A defining mark of good scientists is that they go to great pains to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know. By this criterion, the signatories of the Lancet letter were behaving as poor scientists: they were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.
Finally, to underscore the new study and Wade’s analysis, researchers still have not found the supposed animal source of the coronavirus.
This time, though, the intermediate-host hypothesis has one big problem. More than a year after covid-19 began, no food animal has been identified as a reservoir for the pandemic virus. That’s despite efforts by China to test tens of thousands of animals, including pigs, goats, and geese, according to Liang Wannian, who leads the Chinese side of the research team. No one has found a “direct progenitor” of the virus, he says, and therefore the pandemic “remains an unsolved mystery.”
The new consensus: Anyone who asserts that a lab release of coronavirus isn’t a reasonable possibility is ignoring the real science.DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.