Last August, the Office of Director of National National Intelligence published an unclassified paper on the origins of COVID-19 saying the U.S. intelligence community broadly agreed the virus was not a biological weapons but was more divided on the question of whether the virus was genetically engineered.
Given those rather equivocal findings, the editors of the The Washington Post, are calling for a deeper investigation the origins of COVID-19. They explain the science like this”
The pandemic strain, a coronavirus, carried a feature known as a furin cleavage site, located on the spike protein. When cleaved by furin, a human enzyme, this site enhances the ability of the attacking virus to enter human lung cells and produce disease.We live in a sea of viruses. Why did this particular one break out in this huge Chinese metropolis, and not elsewhere? Where did the virus acquire the furin cleavage site, since no other viruses in the sarbecovirus subgenus, to which its closest relatives belong, have this feature?
The Post editors note that research is casting doubt on the theory that the virus jumped from animals to humans (“zoonotic spillover”).
Recently, a group of scientists led by Zhiqiang Wu published the preliminary results of a study in which they cast a very wide net looking for the pandemic virus — or a progenitor closely related to it — among bats in China. They examined 703 sampling sites in urban, rural and wild areas across China where bats are suspected or confirmed to carry sarbecoviruses. Swabs from 13,064 bats were examined. They found plenty of samples related to the first SARS virus from 2002-2004. But “we did not find any” viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 in the samples, they said, indicating the pandemic virus “might not actively circulate among bats in China.”
The Post points out that that so-called “gain of function” experiments–namely making organisms more infective — were ongoing at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), one of the world’s major research centers on bat coronaviruses.
One proposal, rejected by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called for a lab experiment to
“engineer a furin cleavage site onto the backbone of a coronavirus. This would enhance the virus to better infect human cells in the same way as the pandemic strain did. The WIV was a partner in the proposal, along with a lab at the University of North Carolina and others.”
The editors ask the obvious question: “Is this how the virus appeared in Wuhan? Was there a laboratory accident or leak of some kind at the WIV?”
China has denied it so have advocates of the “zoonotic spillover” thesis. More investigation is needed.