The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has no ‘credible natural ancestor’ and was created by Chinese scientists while working on ‘gain-of-function’ research in a Wuhan lab, according to a Daily Mail report citing a new study. The report claimed that the scientists took a natural coronavirus ‘backbone’ found in bats and added a new ‘spike’ which turned it into deadly and highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2.
British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sørensen authored the new 22-page paper which is set to be published in the Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery, as per Daily Mail. The study reportedly claimed that the Chinese scientists also tried to cover their tracks by reverse-engineering the viruses to make it look like they naturally arose from bats.
Quoting the authors, Daily Mail said that the duo had “prima facie evidence of retro-engineering in China” for a year but was ignored by academics and major journals. The study also accuses Chinese labs of “deliberate destruction, concealment or contamination of data.”
Gain-of-function research alters an organism or disease in a way that increases the transmissibility and/or virulence of pathogens. Scientists work on gain-of-function projects to study their potential effects on humans in order to stay ahead of the curve of potential new diseases. But it also carries a risk of an outbreak if not conducted safely.
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The US Senate on Tuesday passed an amendment to permanently ban the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies from funding gain-of-function research projects in China.
“We don’t know whether the pandemic started in a lab in Wuhan or evolved naturally,” Republican senator Rand Paul, who sponsored the amendment, said in a statement.
The NIH had released a statement last week, saying neither the research agency nor the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) ever approved any grant to support “gain-of-function” research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans. The US agency also urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to begin the second phase of their investigation without delay.
“While many still deny funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan … the passage of my amendment ensures that this never happens in the future,” said Paul.
The scientific community is yet to find the origin of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and renewed demand by the United States to reinvestigate the source has angered China. In a video message to the 74th World Health Assembly (WHA), US health secretary Xavier Becerra demanded independence for international experts to fully assess the source of the virus which has claimed more than 3.5 million lives so far.
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The speculation around the virus origin was fuelled by top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci’s comment during a virtual event hosted by Poynter Institute. Fauci said that he was not convinced with the theory that the virus “developed naturally”, stressing that the world should continue to investigate “what went on in China.”
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday ordered intelligence officials to “redouble” efforts to probe the origins of the pandemic, including the possibility of a Chinese laboratory link. Biden said in a statement that the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around two scenarios but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”