Conspiracy theorists can now take COVID-19 research off their radars: Scripps Research analysed the virus and found that it was not created by China
Natural evolution is how COVID-19 was spread to more than 70 other countries after it begun in Wuhan, China. The pandemic is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, under a firm blanket of panic mixed with the prevalence of fake news. It is not uncommon to come across people who believe that China begun an extremely botched population control strategy.
The human rights violations enacted by China toward the Muslim minorities of their population are well-documented by NGOs. The ethnic cleansing happening in purpose-built camps is clinically precise and remains relatively discreet to the world, even in the technologically global landscape of 2020.
Essentially, the Government knows how to kill.
If a virus was biologically engineered by a team of experts, then the question remains: Why would China create a weapon so potentially harmless and yet uncontrollable?
The answer: They wouldn’t.
The team behind this new research said:
“If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness.”
The analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise man-made.
Kristian Andersen, PhD, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and corresponding author on the paper, said:
“By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes.
When did China realise the severity of COVID-19?
On December 31 of last year, Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization of an outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus causing severe illness, which was subsequently named SARS-CoV-2, known to the public as COVID-19 or simply, Coronavirus.
Shortly after the epidemic began, Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and made the data available to researchers worldwide. The resulting genomic sequence data has shown that Chinese authorities rapidly detected the epidemic and that the number of COVID-19 cases have been increasing because of human to human transmission after a single introduction into the human population. Andersen and collaborators at several other research institutions used this sequencing data to explore the origins of COVID-19.
What genetic data did the scientists examine?
The scientists analysed the genetic template for spike proteins, armatures on the outside of the virus that it uses to grab and penetrate the outer walls of human and animal cells. More specifically, they focused on two important features of the spike protein: the receptor-binding domain (RBD), a kind of grappling hook that grips onto host cells, and the cleavage site, a molecular can opener that allows the virus to crack open and enter host cells.
Evidence for natural evolution of COVID-19
The scientists found that the RBD portion of the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins had evolved to effectively target a molecular feature on the outside of human cells called ACE2, a receptor involved in regulating blood pressure. The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein was so effective at binding the human cells, in fact, that the scientists concluded it was the result of natural selection and not the product of genetic engineering.
it was the result of natural selection and not the product of genetic engineering.
This evidence for natural evolution was supported by data on SARS-CoV-2’s backbone – its overall molecular structure. If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness.
But the scientists conducting COVID-19 research found that the SARS-CoV-2 backbone differed substantially from those of already known coronaviruses and mostly resembled related viruses found in bats and pangolins.
“These two features of the virus, the mutations in the RBD portion of the spike protein and its distinct backbone, rules out laboratory manipulation as a potential origin for SARS-CoV-2” said Andersen.
Josie Golding, PhD, epidemics lead at UK-based Wellcome Trust, said the findings by Andersen and his colleagues are “crucially important to bring an evidence-based view to the rumors that have been circulating about the origins of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) causing COVID-19.”
“They conclude that the virus is the product of natural evolution,” Goulding adds, “ending any speculation about deliberate genetic engineering.”
COVID-19 research has found two origins
Based on their genomic sequencing analysis, Andersen and his collaborators concluded that the most likely origins for SARS-CoV-2 followed one of two possible scenarios.
Possibility 1: Animal to human, already dangerous in animal
In one scenario, the virus evolved to its current pathogenic state through natural selection in a non-human host and then jumped to humans. This is how previous coronavirus outbreaks have emerged, with humans contracting the virus after direct exposure to civets (SARS) and camels (MERS). In other words, it was already mutated into something dangerous in an animal and just jumped into a human.
The researchers proposed bats as the most likely reservoir for SARS-CoV-2 as it is very similar to a bat coronavirus. There are no documented cases of direct bat-human transmission, however, suggesting that an intermediate host was likely involved between bats and humans.
an intermediate host was likely involved between bats and humans.
In this scenario, both of the distinctive features of SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein–the RBD portion that binds to cells and the cleavage site that opens the virus up–would have evolved to their current state prior to entering humans. In this case, the current epidemic would probably have emerged rapidly as soon as humans were infected, as the virus would have already evolved the features that make it pathogenic and able to spread between people.
Possibility 2: Animal to human, becomes dangerous in human
In the other proposed scenario, a non-pathogenic version of the virus jumped from an animal host into humans and then evolved to its current pathogenic state within the human population. In other words, it was not dangerous until it evolved inside a human.
For instance, some coronaviruses from pangolins, armadillo-like mammals found in Asia and Africa, have an RBD structure very similar to that of SARS-CoV-2. A coronavirus from a pangolin could possibly have been transmitted to a human, either directly or through an intermediary host such as civets or ferrets.
Then the other distinct spike protein characteristic of SARS-CoV-2, the cleavage site, could have evolved within a human host, possibly via limited undetected circulation in the human population prior to the beginning of the epidemic. The COVID-19 research found that the SARS-CoV-2 cleavage site, appears similar to the cleavage sites of strains of bird flu that has been shown to transmit easily between people. SARS-CoV-2 could have evolved such a virulent cleavage site in human cells and soon kicked off the current epidemic, as the coronavirus would possibly have become far more capable of spreading between people.
it raises the probability of future outbreaks
Study co-author Andrew Rambaut cautioned that it is difficult if not impossible to know at this point which of the scenarios is most likely. If the SARS-CoV-2 entered humans in its current pathogenic form from an animal source, it raises the probability of future outbreaks, as the illness-causing strain of the virus could still be circulating in the animal population and might once again jump into humans.
The chances of this pandemic happening again are lower if possibility 2 is the right one, because it would be more difficult for a new coronavirus to evolve dangerously inside a human.
Prof Lloyd-Sherlock, professor of social policy and international development at UEA, said:
“The global response to coronavirus must be directed towards those groups who will face the most devastating consequences. So far, this has not happened. We are facing an unprecedented and enormous wave of mortality among older people in these countries.”
Funding for the research was provided by the US National Institutes of Health, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Wellcome Trust, the European Research Council, and an ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship. “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” include Robert F. Garry, of Tulane University; Edward Holmes, of the University of Sydney; Andrew Rambaut, of University of Edinburgh; W. Ian Lipkin, of Columbia University.