Newly released evidence has shown that some of the UK’s top scientists were warned that Covid-19 could have evolved in laboratory animals, but collaborated in producing a paper which stifled the lab leak theory.
The paper in question, ‘The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2’ was published in Nature Medicine in March 2020, made the case for a natural spillover event being the root cause of the pandemic. The paper played a very significant role in preventing a broader discussion into the origins of the virus.
However, emails from early 2020, that have recently seen the light of day following a Freedom of Information request by freelance journalist James Tobias, show that in the weeks prior to publication the authors discussed the matter at length with ‘experts’, including Sir Patrick and Sir Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust.
The aforementioned ‘experts’ were told that the non-typical features seen in Covid-19 could have evolved in animals in a lab, as well as in the wild.
Furthermore, the fact that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) had been carrying out research on bat coronaviruses at worrying levels of biosecurity had been specifically highlighted to them.
Despite the warnings, any mention of biosecurity problems in Wuhan were not included in the publication, and the authors largely dismissed the notion of lab evolution of the virus. Sir Jeremy even stated in one email that research in Wuhan was like the “Wild West”.
Professor Kristian Andersen, of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, was the paper’s lead author. He had earlier told colleagues that features of the virus looked as if they’d been engineered in a lab, evidence for which had been excluded from said paper.
One reason the authors explained away the absence of the lab leak theory was that Covid-19 contained sugars known as ‘o-glycans’ which help the immune system. The immune response is intimately associated with glycan recognition. Protein glycosylation is critical for the differentiation and maturation of immune cells.
Importantly the authors omitted the fact that if the virus had evolved in lab animals it would also contain o-glycans, as they had discussed in the newly released emails.
WHO report on COVID-19 origin to dismiss lab leak theory: AFP
Were scientists trying to appease China?
The new revelations will increase the conviction that some high profile scientists believed the lab leak theory was plausible but shut down a debate before it could get started, so as to avoid causing problems with China.
Professor Ron Fouchier, a Dutch neurologist, cautioned in one of the emails that the investigation of a lab leak could harm Chinese research.
“An accusation that (Covid-19) might have been engineered and released into the environment by humans (accidental or intentional) would need to be supported by strong data, beyond reasonable doubt,” he said.
“It is good that this possibility was discussed in detail with a team of experts. However, further debate about such accusations would unnecessarily distract top researchers from active duties and do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular.”
Many scientists now agree that the theory of a lab leak is highly credible. The evidence for this was found by hackers and rogue scientists, who were branded conspiracy theorists for challenging the accepted narrative.
The latest email release shows that scientists who dismissed a lab leak accepted it was possible behind closed doors.
In an email on February 8, Professor Edward Holmes, one of the authors of the Nature Medicine paper, from the University of Sydney, acknowledged that many people believed the virus had leaked from the Wuhan lab.
Professor Holmes wrote in one of the emails: “Ever since this outbreak started there have been suggestions that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab, if only because of the coincidence of where the outbreak occurred and the location of the lab.”
“I do a lot of work in China and I can tell you a lot of people there believe this and believe they are being lied to,” he wrote.
The role of the Wuhan Institute of Virology
Subsequent evidence has shown that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) had imported bat coronaviruses from areas of China which are the most similar viruses to Covid-19.
It has now also come to light that the institute applied for funding to manipulate viruses by inserting a furin cleavage site (FCS) which is what makes Covid-19 so infectious in humans.
The chain of emails released also involved Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The institute was funding research at the Wuhan lab.
A U.S. Senate Committee published a report this year which concluded that the Covid-19 pandemic was “more likely than not” the consequence of a laboratory accident.
Many decisions made and conclusions drawn about Covid-19 stemmed from the paper published in Nature Medicine in March 2020, which has been accessed over 5.7 million times and cited in 2,627 subsequent papers.