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The hypothesis of “leakage from the laboratory” when studying the origins of the Covid-19 disease has received great attention recently, after a report prepared by a national laboratory affiliated with the US administration concluded that the leakage of the Corona virus, which causes the disease, from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan, is a reasonable hypothesis and deserves further investigation.

This study was prepared by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California in May 2020. The State Department referred to it when it conducted an investigation into the origins of the virus, during the last months of the rule of former US President Donald Trump.

And just a few weeks ago, a group of eminent virologists and epidemiologists published a letter in Science Magazine (Science Mag) calls for a more thorough investigation, noting that the hypothesis of lab leaks has not been taken seriously in previous investigations.

Steven Salzberg, an American biologist, says in an article for the magazine: ForbesThe serendipity of a major virology research facility, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and a live animal food market originally thought to be the source of the outbreak, located a short distance from the institute, is “too big to ignore”.

“The most intriguing thing is that the Wuhan Institute has been actively researching coronaviruses in bats, including bats that carry a strain of SARS-CoV-2, the closest known strain of COVID-19,” he added.

Salzberg believes the hypothesis of a lab leak is “credible”.

The American biologist referred to a research paper published by a group of virologists, very early in the epidemic, in March 2020. The study looked at the sequence of the virus’s genome and concluded that “SARS-CoV-2 is not laboratory-created or intentionally leaked.”

Other studies since then have also reached similar conclusions: “The virus is very similar to naturally occurring coronaviruses, and it likely simply evolved naturally in the wild, possibly in bats.”

However, the hypothesis of a lab leakage remains highly credible, regardless of whether the virus is genetically modified or not, according to Salzberg.

Salzberg says viruses can escape from laboratories, even if such incidents are rare. “We know that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had thousands of viruses, including coronaviruses,” the biologist said.

Despite claims that the viruses could not have been leaked by mistake, a 2017 article in Nature described the then-new Wuhan Institute, saying that “concerns surround it”.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, attention has focused on the Wuhan Institute, and many “conspiracy theorists” have suggested, without any evidence, that the COVID-19 virus was either created or intentionally leaked, or both. But Salzburg questions the credibility of these claims.

The secrecy that the Chinese government imposes on its policies has not helped the truth. It has not yet allowed outside independent scientists full access to the Wuhan Institute to investigate.

“We need to know if any viruses in the Wuhan Institute are similar to Covid-19, and at this point we cannot trust the assertions of the Chinese government on this question,” Salzberg says.

“Of course, even if they allow the investigation now, we can’t know that they kept all the viruses that were in the lab in the winter of 2019-2020,” he added.

The American biologist spoke of medical “gain-of-function” research that alters an organism or disease in a way that increases the etiology, transmissibility, or scope of disease. And this kind of research was done by the Wuhan Institute on coronaviruses.

“That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And yet this research has been going on for years, despite the efforts of many scientists to stop it,” Salzberg said.

According to Salzberg, “job gain” research does not require laboratory synthesis of the virus. He explained, “Viruses evolve very quickly on their own, and RNA viruses such as influenza and SARS-CoV-2 evolve more quickly than DNA viruses.”

“So gain-of-function research does not need to genetically modify the virus to make it more infectious. Instead, scientists can simply grow a few trillion viral particles, which is easy, and then design experiments to identify the most infectious particles.”

“Was the Wuhan Institute of Virology doing gain-of-function experiments on SARS-CoV-2 viruses from bats?” Salzberg asked.

If so, it is possible that these experiments easily produced a strain that infected humans. If a laboratory employee accidentally becomes infected with such a strain, this could be the cause of the epidemic.


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