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Supplement #2 to “The Magic Virus Theory” Series

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COMMENT: We high­light infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed in FTR #1129, for pur­pos­es of empha­siz­ing the flim­sy nature of the argu­ment pre­sent­ed in a paper from Nature Med­i­cine.

Many sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical peo­ple dis­miss­ing the argu­ment that the Covid-19 coro­n­avirus may have been cre­at­ed in a lab­o­ra­to­ry may be act­ing out of the sin­cere desire to pre­clude a full-dress Cold War between the U.S. and Chi­na. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has tire­less­ly flogged the “Chi­na did it and it came from a lab­o­ra­to­ry” meme. Many lib­er­als who dis­missed the obvi­ous fact that Pres­i­dent Kennedy was mur­dered by a cabal of pow­er­ful U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests did so because of what Peter Dale Scott calls a “lev­el one cover-up”–alleged Sovi­et and/or Cas­tro Cuban manip­u­la­tion of Lee Har­vey Oswald, fab­ri­cat­ed by the exe­cu­tion­ers them­selves.

That notwith­stand­ing, there is abun­dant evi­dence of a man-made ori­gin of the virus. (We do NOT believe that the event was authored–deliberately or accidentally–by Chi­na. The Covid-19 out­break occurred in the mid­dle of a “Full-Court-Press” covert and overt regime-change oper­a­tion against Chi­na by the U.S. and its allies, and we feel that those inter­ests are the exec­u­tive ele­ments behind the pan­dem­ic.)

Two telling, thought­ful, sub­stan­tive cri­tiques of the Nature Med­i­cine arti­cle shed light on the flim­sy nature of its argu­ments.

It would not be unfair to char­ac­ter­ize the arti­cle as “The War­ren Report” of the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic.

Genet­ic Engi­neer­ing

Like the Bible, it is open to seri­ous sci­en­tif­ic refu­ta­tion: ” . . . . To put it sim­ply, the authors are say­ing that SARS-CoV­‑2 was not delib­er­ate­ly engi­neered because if it were, it would have been designed dif­fer­ent­ly. How­ev­er, the Lon­don-based mol­e­c­u­lar geneti­cist Dr Michael Anto­niou com­ment­ed that this line of rea­son­ing fails to take into account that there are a num­ber of lab­o­ra­to­ry-based sys­tems that can select for high affin­i­ty RBD vari­ants that are able to take into account the com­plex envi­ron­ment of a liv­ing organ­ism. This com­plex envi­ron­ment may impact the effi­cien­cy with which the SARS-CoV spike pro­tein can find the ACE2 recep­tor and bind to it. An RBD select­ed via these more real­is­tic real-world exper­i­men­tal sys­tems would be just as ‘ide­al’, or even more so, for human ACE2 bind­ing than any RBD that a com­put­er mod­el could pre­dict. And cru­cial­ly, it would like­ly be dif­fer­ent in amino acid sequence. So the fact that SARS-CoV­‑2 doesn’t have the same RBD amino acid sequence as the one that the com­put­er pro­gram pre­dict­ed in no way rules out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that it was genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered. . . .”

Dr. Michael Anto­niou notes that dif­fer­ent genet­ic engi­neer­ing process­es than the one high­light­ed in the Nature Med­i­cine paper can be used: ”  . . . . There is anoth­er method by which an enhanced-infec­tiv­i­ty virus can be engi­neered in the lab. A well-known alter­na­tive process that could have been used has the cum­ber­some name of “direct­ed iter­a­tive evo­lu­tion­ary selec­tion process”. In this case, it would involve using genet­ic engi­neer­ing to gen­er­ate a large num­ber of ran­dom­ly mutat­ed ver­sions of the SARS-CoV spike pro­tein recep­tor bind­ing domain (RBD), which would then be select­ed for strong bind­ing to the ACE2 recep­tor and con­se­quent­ly high infec­tiv­i­ty of human cells. . . .”

The notion that the Nature Med­i­cine authors had not heard of the above process is not cred­i­ble: ” . . . . Such a direct­ed iter­a­tive evo­lu­tion­ary selec­tion process is a fre­quent­ly used method in lab­o­ra­to­ry research. So there is lit­tle or no pos­si­bil­i­ty that the Nature Med­i­cine arti­cle authors haven’t heard of it – not least, as it is con­sid­ered so sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly impor­tant that its inven­tors were award­ed the Nobel Prize in Chem­istry in 2018. . . .

Of more than pass­ing sig­nif­i­cance is anoth­er arti­cle that finds seri­ous fault with the Nature Med­i­cine paper. ” . . . . Pro­fes­sor Stu­art New­man, pro­fes­sor of cell biol­o­gy and anato­my at New York Med­ical Col­lege, says that a key argu­ment used to deny that it could be a genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered strain that escaped from a lab­o­ra­to­ry actu­al­ly points to the exact oppo­site. In oth­er words, it indi­cates that SARS-CoV­‑2 could well be genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered and that it could have escaped from a lab. . . . As Adam Lau­r­ing, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of micro­bi­ol­o­gy, immunol­o­gy and infec­tious dis­eases at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan Med­ical School, has not­ed, Andersen’s paper argues that, ‘the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus has some key dif­fer­ences in spe­cif­ic genes rel­a­tive to pre­vi­ous­ly iden­ti­fied coro­n­avirus­es – the ones a lab­o­ra­to­ry would be work­ing with. This con­stel­la­tion of changes makes it unlike­ly that it is the result of a lab­o­ra­to­ry ‘escape’.‘But Pro­fes­sor New­man says that this is total­ly uncon­vinc­ing because ‘The ‘key dif­fer­ences’ were in regions of the coro­n­avirus spike pro­tein that were the sub­ject of genet­ic engi­neer­ing exper­i­ments in labs around the world (main­ly in the US and Chi­na) for two decades.’ . . .”

Pro­fes­sor New­man goes on to high­light oth­er, seri­ous flaws in the argu­ment: ” . . . In an email inter­view with GMWatch, New­man, who is edi­tor-in-chief of the jour­nal Bio­log­i­cal The­o­ry and co-author (with Tina Stevens) of the book Biotech Jug­ger­naut, ampli­fied this spec­u­la­tion by not­ing, ‘The Nature Med­i­cine paper points to vari­a­tions in two sites of the spike pro­tein of the new coro­n­avirus that the authors claim must have arisen by nat­ur­al selec­tion in the wild. How­ev­er, genet­ic engi­neer­ing of one of these sites, the ACE2 recep­tor bind­ing domain, has been pro­posed since 2005 in order to help gen­er­ate vac­cines against these virus­es (see this paper). It is puz­zling that the authors of the Nature Med­i­cine com­men­tary did not cite this paper, which appeared in the promi­nent jour­nal Sci­ence.More­over, New­man added, “The sec­ond site that Ander­sen et al. assert arose by nat­ur­al means, a tar­get of enzyme cleav­age not usu­al­ly found in this class of virus­es, was in fact intro­duced by genet­ic engi­neer­ing in a sim­i­lar coro­n­avirus in a paper they do cite. This was done to explore mech­a­nisms of path­o­genic­i­ty. . . . .”

Worth not­ing, again, is the British Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion’s warn­ing dis­cussed in FTR #1129: ” . . . .The BMA report warns that legit­i­mate research into micro­bi­o­log­i­cal agents and genet­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed ther­a­peu­tic agents could be dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish from research geared towards devel­op­ing more effec­tive weapons. . . .”

As the GMWatch authors con­clude: ” . . . . Such ‘enhanced infec­tiv­i­ty’ research is car­ried out on virus­es all over the world (and not just in Chi­na) to inves­ti­gate their behav­iour and to devel­op vac­cines and oth­er ther­a­pies, as well as for ‘biode­fence’ pur­pos­es. . . .”

1.   “Was the COVID-19 virus genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered?” by Claire Robin­son; GMWatch; 04/22/2020.

Since the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic took off, spec­u­la­tion has been rife about its ori­gins. The truth is that nobody knows for cer­tain how the virus first took hold. But despite that uncer­tain­ty, sug­ges­tions that the virus may have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered, or oth­er­wise lab-gen­er­at­ed, have been reject­ed as “con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries” incom­pat­i­ble with the evi­dence.

Yet the main evi­dence that is cit­ed as end­ing all spec­u­la­tion about the role of genet­ic engi­neer­ing and as prov­ing the virus could only have been the prod­uct of nat­ur­al evo­lu­tion turns out to be sur­pris­ing­ly weak. Let’s take a look at it.

The authors of a recent­ly pub­lished paper in the jour­nal Nature Med­i­cine argue that the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus dri­ving the pan­dem­ic arose through nat­ur­al muta­tion and selec­tion in ani­mal (notably bats and pan­golins) or human hosts, and not through lab­o­ra­to­ry manip­u­la­tion and acci­den­tal release. And they say they have iden­ti­fied two key char­ac­ter­is­tics of the virus that prove this: the absence of a pre­vi­ous­ly used virus back­bone and the way in which the virus binds to human cells.

Not the “ide­al” design for infec­tiv­i­ty?

As you would expect of a virus that can cause a glob­al pan­dem­ic, SARS-CoV­‑2 is good at infect­ing human cells. It does this by bind­ing with high affin­i­ty (that is, it binds strong­ly) to the cell sur­face mem­brane pro­tein known as angiotensin-con­vert­ing enzyme 2 (ACE2), which enables it to enter human cells. But, bas­ing their argu­ment on a com­put­er mod­el­ling sys­tem, the authors of the Nature Med­i­cine paper argue that the inter­ac­tion between the virus and the ACE2 recep­tor is “not ide­al”.

They say that the recep­tor-bind­ing domain (RBD) amino acid sequence of the SARS-CoV­‑2 spike pro­tein – the part of the spike pro­tein that allows the virus to bind to the ACE2 pro­tein on human cell sur­faces – is dif­fer­ent from those shown in the SARS-CoV fam­i­ly of virus­es to be opti­mal for recep­tor bind­ing.

They appear to argue, based on their and oth­ers‘ com­put­er mod­el­ling data, that they have iden­ti­fied the “ide­al” CoV spike pro­tein RBD amino acid sequence for ACE2 recep­tor bind­ing. They then seem to imply that if you were to genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer SARS-CoV for opti­mal human ACE2 bind­ing and infec­tiv­i­ty, you would use the RBD amino acid sequence pre­dict­ed by their com­put­er mod­el­ling. But they point out that SARS-CoV­‑2 does not have exact­ly the same com­put­er pro­gram-pre­dict­ed RBD amino acid sequence. Thus they con­clude that it could not have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered, stat­ing: “This is strong evi­dence that SARS-CoV­‑2 is not the prod­uct of pur­pose­ful manip­u­la­tion.”

To put it sim­ply, the authors are say­ing that SARS-CoV­‑2 was not delib­er­ate­ly engi­neered because if it were, it would have been designed dif­fer­ent­ly.

How­ev­er, the Lon­don-based mol­e­c­u­lar geneti­cist Dr Michael Anto­niou com­ment­ed that this line of rea­son­ing fails to take into account that there are a num­ber of lab­o­ra­to­ry-based sys­tems that can select for high affin­i­ty RBD vari­ants that are able to take into account the com­plex envi­ron­ment of a liv­ing organ­ism. This com­plex envi­ron­ment may impact the effi­cien­cy with which the SARS-CoV spike pro­tein can find the ACE2 recep­tor and bind to it. An RBD select­ed via these more real­is­tic real-world exper­i­men­tal sys­tems would be just as “ide­al”, or even more so, for human ACE2 bind­ing than any RBD that a com­put­er mod­el could pre­dict. And cru­cial­ly, it would like­ly be dif­fer­ent in amino acid sequence. So the fact that SARS-CoV­‑2 doesn’t have the same RBD amino acid sequence as the one that the com­put­er pro­gram pre­dict­ed in no way rules out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that it was genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered.

Lim­its to com­put­er mod­el­ling

Dr Anto­niou said that the authors’ rea­son­ing is not con­clu­sive because it is based large­ly on com­put­er mod­el­ling, which, he says, is “not defin­i­tive but only pre­dic­tive. It can­not tell us whether any giv­en virus would be opti­mized for infec­tiv­i­ty in a real world sce­nario, such as in the human body. That’s because the envi­ron­ment of the human body will influ­ence how the virus inter­acts with the recep­tor. You can’t mod­el that accu­rate­ly with com­put­er mod­el­ling as there are sim­ply too many vari­ables to fac­tor into the equa­tion.”

Dr Anto­niou added, “Peo­ple can put too much faith in com­put­er pro­grams, but they are only a begin­ning. You then have to prove whether the com­put­er program’s pre­dic­tion is cor­rect or not by direct exper­i­men­ta­tion in a liv­ing organ­ism. This has not been done in the case of this hypoth­e­sis, so it remains unproven.”

It is even pos­si­ble that SARS-CoV­‑2 was opti­mized using a liv­ing organ­ism mod­el, result­ing in a virus that is bet­ter at infect­ing humans than any com­put­er mod­el could pre­dict.

More than one way to engi­neer a virus

The authors of the Nature Med­i­cine arti­cle seem to assume that the only way to genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer a virus is to take an already known virus and then engi­neer it to have the new prop­er­ties you want. On this premise, they looked for evi­dence of an already known virus that could have been used in the engi­neer­ing of SARS-CoV­‑2.

And they failed to find that evi­dence. They stat­ed, “Genet­ic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV­‑2 is not derived from any pre­vi­ous­ly used virus back­bone.”

But Dr Anto­niou told us that while the authors did indeed show that SARS-CoV­‑2 was unlike­ly to have been built by delib­er­ate genet­ic engi­neer­ing from a pre­vi­ous­ly used virus back­bone, that’s not the only way of con­struct­ing a virus. There is anoth­er method by which an enhanced-infec­tiv­i­ty virus can be engi­neered in the lab.

A well-known alter­na­tive

A well-known alter­na­tive process that could have been used has the cum­ber­some name of “direct­ed iter­a­tive evo­lu­tion­ary selec­tion process”. In this case, it would involve using genet­ic engi­neer­ing to gen­er­ate a large num­ber of ran­dom­ly mutat­ed ver­sions of the SARS-CoV spike pro­tein recep­tor bind­ing domain (RBD), which would then be select­ed for strong bind­ing to the ACE2 recep­tor and con­se­quent­ly high infec­tiv­i­ty of human cells.

This selec­tion can be done either with puri­fied pro­teins or, bet­ter still, with a mix­ture of whole coro­n­avirus (CoV) prepa­ra­tions and human cells in tis­sue cul­ture. Alter­na­tive­ly, the SARS-CoV spike pro­tein vari­ants can be genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered with­in what is known as a “phage dis­play library”. A phage is a virus that infects bac­te­ria and can be genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered to express on its exte­ri­or coat the CoV spike pro­tein with a large num­ber of vari­ants of the RBD. This prepa­ra­tion of phage, dis­play­ing on its sur­face a “library” of CoV spike pro­tein vari­ants, is then added to human cells under lab­o­ra­to­ry cul­ture con­di­tions in order to select for those that bind to the ACE2 recep­tor.

This process is repeat­ed under more and more strin­gent bind­ing con­di­tions until CoV spike pro­tein vari­ants with a high bind­ing affin­i­ty are iso­lat­ed.

Once any of the above selec­tion pro­ce­dures for high affin­i­ty inter­ac­tion of SARS-CoV spike pro­tein with ACE2 has been com­plet­ed, then whole infec­tious CoV with these prop­er­ties can be man­u­fac­tured.

Such a direct­ed iter­a­tive evo­lu­tion­ary selec­tion process is a fre­quent­ly used method in lab­o­ra­to­ry research. So there is lit­tle or no pos­si­bil­i­ty that the Nature Med­i­cine arti­cle authors haven’t heard of it – not least, as it is con­sid­ered so sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly impor­tant that its inven­tors were award­ed the Nobel Prize in Chem­istry in 2018.

Yet the pos­si­bil­i­ty that this is the way that SARS-CoV­‑2 arose is not addressed by the Nature Med­i­cine arti­cle authors and so its use has not been dis­proven.

No proof SARS-CoV­‑2 was not genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered

In sum, the Nature Med­i­cine arti­cle authors offer no evi­dence that the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus could not have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered. That’s not to say that it was, of course. We can’t know one way or the oth­er on the basis of cur­rent­ly avail­able infor­ma­tion.

Dr Anto­niou wrote a short let­ter to Nature Med­i­cine to point out these omis­sions in the authors’ case. Nature Med­i­cine has no method of sub­mit­ting a sim­ple let­ter to the edi­tor, so Dr Anto­niou had to sub­mit it as a Mat­ters Aris­ing com­men­tary, which the jour­nal defines as pre­sent­ing “chal­lenges or clar­i­fi­ca­tions” to an orig­i­nal pub­lished work.

Dr Antoniou’s com­ments were titled, “SARS-CoV­‑2 could have been cre­at­ed through lab­o­ra­to­ry manip­u­la­tion”. How­ev­er, Nature Med­i­cine refused to pub­lish them on the grounds that “we do not feel that they advance or clar­i­fy under­stand­ing” of the orig­i­nal arti­cle. The jour­nal offered no sci­en­tif­ic argu­ment to rebut his points.

In our view, those points do offer clar­i­fi­ca­tion to the orig­i­nal arti­cle, and what’s more, there is a strong pub­lic inter­est case for mak­ing them pub­lic. That’s why we repro­duce Dr Antoniou’s let­ter below this arti­cle, with his per­mis­sion.

Not genet­ic engi­neer­ing – but human inter­ven­tion

There is, inci­den­tal­ly, anoth­er pos­si­ble way that SARS-CoV­‑2 could have been devel­oped in a lab­o­ra­to­ry, but in this case with­out using genet­ic engi­neer­ing. This was point­ed out by Niko­lai Petro­vsky, a researcher at the Col­lege of Med­i­cine and Pub­lic Health at Flinders Uni­ver­si­ty in South Aus­tralia. Petro­vsky says that coro­n­avirus­es can be cul­tured in lab dish­es with cells that have the human ACE2 recep­tor. Over time, the virus will gain adap­ta­tions that let it effi­cient­ly bind to those recep­tors. Along the way, that virus would pick up ran­dom genet­ic muta­tions that pop up but don’t do any­thing notice­able.

“The result of these exper­i­ments is a virus that is high­ly vir­u­lent in humans but is suf­fi­cient­ly dif­fer­ent that it no longer resem­bles the orig­i­nal bat virus,” Petro­vsky said. “Because the muta­tions are acquired ran­dom­ly by selec­tion, there is no sig­na­ture of a human gene jock­ey, but this is clear­ly a virus still cre­at­ed by human inter­ven­tion.”

Dr Anto­niou agrees that this method is pos­si­ble – but he points out that wait­ing for nature to pro­duce the desired muta­tions is a lot slow­er than using genet­ic engi­neer­ing to gen­er­ate a large num­ber of ran­dom muta­tions that you can then select for the desired out­come by a direct­ed iter­a­tive evo­lu­tion­ary pro­ce­dure.

Because genet­ic engi­neer­ing great­ly speeds up the process, it is by far the most effi­cient way to gen­er­ate nov­el path­o­gen­ic virus­es in the lab. . . .

Con­clu­sion

It is clear that there is no con­clu­sive evi­dence either way at this point as to whether SARS-CoV­‑2 arose by nat­ur­al muta­tion and selec­tion in ani­mal and/or human hosts or was genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered in a lab­o­ra­to­ry. And in this light, the ques­tion of where this virus came from should con­tin­ue to be explored with an open mind.

*****

SARS-CoV­‑2 could have been cre­at­ed through lab­o­ra­to­ry manip­u­la­tion

Dr Michael Anto­niou

Kris­t­ian Ander­sen and col­leagues (“The prox­i­mal ori­gin of SARS-CoV­‑2”, Nature Med­i­cine, 26: 450–452, 2020) argue that their amino acid sequence com­par­isons and com­pu­ta­tion­al mod­el­ling defin­i­tive­ly proves that SARS-CoV­‑2 has arisen through nat­ur­al muta­tion and selec­tion in ani­mal or human hosts, and not through lab­o­ra­to­ry manip­u­la­tion and acci­den­tal release. How­ev­er, although the authors may indeed be cor­rect in how they per­ceive SARS-CoV­‑2 to have arisen, the data they present does not exclude the pos­si­bil­i­ty that this new coro­n­avirus vari­ant could have been cre­at­ed through an in vit­ro, direct­ed iter­a­tive evo­lu­tion­ary selec­tion process (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directed_evolution). Using this method, a very large library of ran­dom­ly muta­g­e­nized coro­n­avirus spike pro­teins could be select­ed for strong bind­ing to the ACE2 recep­tor and con­se­quent­ly high infec­tiv­i­ty of human cells. The pow­er of such direct­ed evo­lu­tion to select for opti­mal enzy­mat­ic and pro­tein-pro­tein inter­ac­tions was acknowl­edged by the award of the Nobel Prize in Chem­istry in 2018 (see https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2018/summary/).

2. “Anoth­er expert chal­lenges asser­tions that SARS-CoV­‑2 was not genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered”; GMWatch; 04/27/2020.

Anoth­er expert on biotech­nol­o­gy has attacked the evi­dence being used to quash sug­ges­tions that SARS-CoV­‑2, the virus strain that caus­es COVID-19, might have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered. Pro­fes­sor Stu­art New­man, pro­fes­sor of cell biol­o­gy and anato­my at New York Med­ical Col­lege, says that a key argu­ment used to deny that it could be a genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered strain that escaped from a lab­o­ra­to­ry actu­al­ly points to the exact oppo­site. In oth­er words, it indi­cates that SARS-CoV­‑2 could well be genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered and that it could have escaped from a lab.

The evi­dence that is being cit­ed as prov­ing that SARS-CoV­‑2 is “not a lab­o­ra­to­ry con­struct or a pur­pose­ful­ly manip­u­lat­ed virus” is a paper pub­lished by the immu­nol­o­gist Kris­t­ian Ander­sen and col­leagues in Nature Med­i­cine. As Adam Lau­r­ing, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of micro­bi­ol­o­gy, immunol­o­gy and infec­tious dis­eases at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan Med­ical School, has not­ed, Andersen’s paper argues that, “the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus has some key dif­fer­ences in spe­cif­ic genes rel­a­tive to pre­vi­ous­ly iden­ti­fied coro­n­avirus­es – the ones a lab­o­ra­to­ry would be work­ing with. This con­stel­la­tion of changes makes it unlike­ly that it is the result of a lab­o­ra­to­ry ‘escape’.”

But Pro­fes­sor New­man says that this is total­ly uncon­vinc­ing because “The ‘key dif­fer­ences’ were in regions of the coro­n­avirus spike pro­tein that were the sub­ject of genet­ic engi­neer­ing exper­i­ments in labs around the world (main­ly in the US and Chi­na) for two decades.”

So not only does New­man think that the virus could have escaped from a lab, he also thinks that it could have orig­i­nat­ed in a virus stock that had under­gone genet­ic engi­neer­ing at some point.

In an email inter­view with GMWatch, New­man, who is edi­tor-in-chief of the jour­nal Bio­log­i­cal The­o­ry and co-author (with Tina Stevens) of the book Biotech Jug­ger­naut, ampli­fied this spec­u­la­tion by not­ing, “The Nature Med­i­cine paper points to vari­a­tions in two sites of the spike pro­tein of the new coro­n­avirus that the authors claim must have arisen by nat­ur­al selec­tion in the wild. How­ev­er, genet­ic engi­neer­ing of one of these sites, the ACE2 recep­tor bind­ing domain, has been pro­posed since 2005 in order to help gen­er­ate vac­cines against these virus­es (see this paper). It is puz­zling that the authors of the Nature Med­i­cine com­men­tary did not cite this paper, which appeared in the promi­nent jour­nal Sci­ence.

More­over, New­man added, “The sec­ond site that Ander­sen et al. assert arose by nat­ur­al means, a tar­get of enzyme cleav­age not usu­al­ly found in this class of virus­es, was in fact intro­duced by genet­ic engi­neer­ing in a sim­i­lar coro­n­avirus in a paper they do cite. This was done to explore mech­a­nisms of path­o­genic­i­ty.

New­man said that he does not believe that these changes were delib­er­ate­ly intro­duced to increase the path­o­genic­i­ty of any sin­gle strain, but that SARS-CoV­‑2 may have had genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered com­po­nents in its his­to­ry before being inad­ver­tent­ly intro­duced into the human pop­u­la­tion.

New­man is not the only sci­en­tist that has spo­ken out about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered ele­ment to the virus. We recent­ly pub­lished an arti­cle in which the mol­e­c­u­lar geneti­cist Dr Michael Anto­niou also cast doubt on asser­tions that the virus was not genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered. Dr Anto­niou set out a method by which the virus could have been genet­i­cal­ly manip­u­lat­ed and select­ed for increased infec­tiv­i­ty in the lab­o­ra­to­ry.

Nei­ther Dr Anto­niou, nor Prof New­man, nor we our­selves make any sug­ges­tion that, in the event that genet­ic engi­neer­ing was involved, the inten­tion was to cre­ate a bioweapon. Such “enhanced infec­tiv­i­ty” research is car­ried out on virus­es all over the world (and not just in Chi­na) to inves­ti­gate their behav­iour and to devel­op vac­cines and oth­er ther­a­pies, as well as for “biode­fence” pur­pos­es. . . .

Discussion

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