Scientists have refined the argument that the Corona virus came from the Wuhan market

Suspension

The coronavirus pandemic began with a separate viral outbreak — at least two but possibly as many — of live animals that were sold and slaughtered in late 2019 at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, according to two papers published Tuesday in the journal Science.

The publication of the papers, which have received five months of peer review and reviews by the authors, is unlikely to quell the debate over how the pandemic began and whether the virus emerged from a Chinese laboratory. The authors acknowledge that there are many unknowns that require further investigation – most notably, what animals are involved.

“Everything at the beginning of this – which animals, where they came from, how it all relates – is completely unknown at this point,” Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research, said at a briefing Tuesday.

“Have we refuted the lab leak theory? No we haven’t. Will we be able to? No. But there are ‘possible’ scenarios and there are ‘reasonable’ scenarios,” Andersen said… ‘Possible’ doesn’t mean equal probability.

The natural origin of the epidemic – a “zoonotic disease” – has long been a favorite theory among scientists for the simple reason that most epidemics, including the SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2002-2003, started this way. Andersen and colleagues believe that multiple lines of evidence, including aggregating early cases of COVID-19 around the market, not only make market origin a likely scenario, but the one that fits the data.

The “leak in the lab” conjecture was initially dismissed in most mainstream media as a conspiracy theory. There are many laboratory leak scenarios, and many have focused on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a major research center studying coronaviruses.

Scientists there say they never contracted the virus in their lab. But outside experts questioned whether the laboratory was following safety procedures when looking for viruses. Chinese authorities have restricted outside investigators’ access to laboratories. Amateur investigators created online communities that raised suspicions about the possibility of a leak in the laboratory. The pressure to investigate the hypothesis came amid the scientific community’s struggle to determine how the virus entered humans.

In May 2021, Science published a letter from 18 scientists calling for an investigation into the origin of the virus that includes exploring the leakage theory in the lab. Shortly thereafter, President Biden asked his intelligence agencies to investigate all of the potential origins of the pandemic. The review concluded that the virus was not a designed biological weapon, but failed to make a conclusion about its source.

Among the scientists who signed the letter to Science was Michael Worby, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Arizona who felt the lab leak thesis deserved attention even if it wasn’t the likely origin. But Worobey soon became convinced that the virus was off the market. Worobey is the lead author of the new paper asserting that the market has been the epicenter of the epidemic.

The researchers surveyed data on early patients, many of whom had direct links to the market or lived nearby. Warby said that the geography of early community spread showed the infection spreading outward from the vicinity of the market: “It’s a crazy bull’s-eye.”

Moreover, when the market was first identified as the site of a cluster of cases, Chinese investigators took environmental samples for traces of the virus. The new study stated that a disproportionate number of positive virus effects came from the market segment in which live animals were sold.

“The virus started spreading among the people who work in the market, but then it started spreading in the surrounding community as the sellers went to the local stores, infecting the people who work in those stores,” Worubi suggested.

Worobey is not new to this issue. Last year, he wrote an article called “Perspective” in Science in which he said that the geographic clustering of cases in and around the market could not be further explained as “confirmatory bias,” implying that the clustering was not just the result of investigators knocking the doors in after discovering the market outbreak. .

He believes any alternative scenario – such as a lab leak – is implausible.

“It now puts us at a point where we know the Huanan market has been the epicenter of this epidemic. That much has now been established. If others want to argue that, they are now basically taking a pseudo-scientific approach,” Wurubi said in an interview on Tuesday. You don’t have a strong weapon, “Yeah, we sampled a raccoon dog with the virus in December,” “When you put it all together, that’s the only theory that actually explains all the data.”

Angela Rasmussen, a University of Saskatchewan virologist and co-author of one of the new papers, said in an email that she agreed with Worobey: “There is no alternative explanation that fits the facts, so anyone trying to come up with it would have to become proficient in willful ignorance, or a reasoning influencer. , or just a superstitious expert.”

The authors’ argument about the natural origin of the epidemic is not new: the same two papers were published in an earlier online form in February on the Preprint website. But at that point, they were in a limbo subject to peer-review—something that could be reported in a news story but lacked the stature of studies that escaped scrutiny by insider outside journal editors and journal editors.

The second paper, published Tuesday in Science, reports that genetic evidence and computer modeling indicate that the virus has infiltrated humans not just once, but on multiple occasions in late 2019. Genomic analysis of early cases shows two distinct strains, called A and B, the two must have come from separate repercussions. Both strains were found in environmental samples taken from the market, according to a preprint paper from Chinese researchers in February.

Promoters of the lab leak theory argue that the market was likely a hyper-spread site. The virus could have gotten there by an infected person in a lab, or someone who was exposed to an infected lab worker, for example.

The debate over the origin of the market also includes potentially unreliable Chinese data, Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, said in an interview earlier this year. He said he feels the data is “inconclusive”.

“I feel the data from the Chinese government should be treated with a healthy grain of salt,” Bloom said.

There is no evidence that the virus or its immediate predecessor was in any laboratory before the outbreak in Wuhan. But the continuing mystery about the pandemic’s origin has drawn attention to the kind of virus research — including “gain-the-job” experiments — that some critics say are risky. The US National Institutes of Health, mired in controversy because it helped fund some research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said this year it was reviewing its policies to ensure the safety and security of laboratories.

Senator. If Republicans took power in the Senate after the midterm elections, Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who favored the laboratory-origin interpretation, said at a rally on April 30 in Kentucky that if Republicans took control of the Senate after the midterm elections, he would use subpoenas “to get to the bottom of this virus came from.”

Chinese scientists have denied having the virus in their lab. According to Andersen and other virologists who studied it, the virus does not appear to have been manipulated or engineered, and its genetic characteristics could have resulted from evolution.

However, the controversy over coronavirus research is unlikely to subside.

Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist, leads a panel sponsored by The Lancet that is expected to release a report this fall on the pandemic, including the origin of the virus. He recently co-authored an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calling for an investigation into the origin of the pandemic through “a bipartisan Congressional investigation with full investigative powers.”

On Tuesday, after Science published the two papers, Sachs said in an email that he still favored the lab leak theory: “The two competing hypotheses, natural diffusion and lab creation, are both viable. They should be directly compared to each other. In my opinion, the hypothesis of The laboratory establishment is the most straightforward and credible.”

Noting that the new papers do not announce a “case closure” but are useful, David Rellman, professor of medicine and microbiology at Stanford University, was among the signatories of a 2021 letter to Science calling for an investigation into all of the pandemic’s potential origins. He said he would like to see a comprehensive forensic study similar to the leak hypothesis in the lab.

“I don’t think we can say we now know it started here. I think we can say something very interesting happened in this part of town,” Rillmann said. [coronavirus] Positive animals in the market.

Andersen, a Scripps research scientist, has been embroiled in the controversy over the origin of the virus for more than two years. He was the lead author of an early research paper, published in Nature Medicine, in which he said the virus was clearly not engineered. But his first impression of the virus was that it looked abnormal, and only after doing more research did he conclude that its traits could have been produced through evolution.

On Tuesday, Andersen reiterated that he initially thought the new coronavirus may have come from a lab. But he said all indications are now pointing to the market.

“It’s not official evidence, again,” he said, “but it’s so strong in my opinion that any other version, a lab leak for example, should be able to explain all of this evidence.” “this is not possible.”

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