Friday, March 22, 2024

COVID Lab Leak Theory Resurfaces After Controversial New Study; COVID-19: Why We're Looking for the Pandemic's Origin, and other C-Virus related stories

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COVID Lab Leak Theory Resurfaces After Controversial New Study
Four years on from the COVID-19 pandemic, the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still contested. The most widely accepted hypothesis in the scientific community is that the virus naturally emerged from an animal source. However, there are others who believe that the virus leaked from a Chinese laboratory.
To add to this debate, a controversial new research paper from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, has suggested that the available evidence points toward an unnatural origin for the virus. But many others are unconvinced.
"The study uses an established tool to show that an unnatural origin is as plausible, if not more plausible, than a natural origin and not a low-probability, fringe theory," the study's senior author, Chandini Raina MacIntyre, professor of global biosecurity and head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales, told Newsweek.
"It does this by considering a large range of different intelligence and analyses using a framework that has been tested and trained on past natural and unnatural epidemics."
Much of our understanding of the origins of COVID-19 comes from genetic analysis and subsequent reconstruction of the virus's evolutionary tree. This so-called phylogenetic analysis allows us to understand how SARS-CoV-2 might have evolved from existing lineages in nature. Indeed, researchers have shown that SARS-CoV-2 shares 96 percent of its DNA with coronaviruses found in bats. But MacIntyre said that this data does not prove a natural origin for the virus.
"The question of origins of a virus cannot be answered by phylogenetics alone because gain-of-function research may not leave obvious signs of manipulation, and a resulting virus may appear 'natural,'" MacIntyre said. "A natural origin of SARS-COV-2 is, of course still possible, but there are no grounds to dismiss the suggestion of an unnatural origin.
"It remains a fact that no animal host or intermediary animal has been identified yet to support a zoonotic origin."
Gain-of-function research involves the manipulation of an organism's DNA (or in this case, a virus's DNA) to introduce or enhance new capabilities, such as its potential to infect new hosts. This is often performed to gain a better understanding of how an animal virus might mutate to infect humans, and thus how we can prepare for future outbreaks. However, this type of research is also controversial because there is always a small risk that these artificially infectious viruses could escape.
The Wuhan Institute for Virology, the location most often cited as the most likely source for any potential lab leak under this hypothesis, has a published record of conducting such gain-of-function research, the U.S. Department of State said in a statement. However, no direct evidence of SARS-CoV-2 resulting from gain-of-function research has been found. --->READ MORE HERE
Image: Aly Song/REUTERS
COVID-19: Why we're looking for the pandemic's origin
Discovering the origins of COVID will shape the next pandemic. Scientists think it either originated in nature or was caused by an accidental leak, but there's no consensus. Here's why.
Four years after the COVID-19 pandemic provoked whole countries into lockdown, scientists are still trying to find conclusive evidence to pinpoint where the virus first infected humans.
But now that life's back to a kind of normal, does it really matter where SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused COVID, originated? What's the difference if the virus leaked from a lab or developed in nature?
Well, researchers say it does matter: They say it's one of the most important questions for our understanding of how pandemics start, and how we can prevent them in the future.
The answer, they say, would have a lasting effect on health policy, scientific funding, public opinion on science and diplomatic relations.
Not to mention the fact we're still living with COVID: The World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Dashboard continues to report hundreds of thousands of cases every month worldwide.
But from lab leak theory to zoonotic theory, and conspiracy theories in between, there's no consensus on COVID's origin.
With new investigations and analyses emerging on this fourth anniversary, we take a look at the current thinking.
Did SARS-CoV-2 leak from a lab?
Arguments for the lab leak theory center around the Wuhan Institute of Virology, an institute where scientists were researching coronaviruses at the time of the initial outbreak in China.
"The strongest evidence comes from the timeline of research [going back to] 2012. Published papers from the institute show scientists could construct modified coronaviruses," said Richard H. Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University in the US. --->READ MORE HERE
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