Author: “The virus is the product of natural evolution, ending any speculation about deliberate genetic engineering.”
JUPITER, Fla. — Over the course of this Covid-19 ordeal, a number of outlandish conspiracy theories have emerged that the virus was produced in a Chinese, Canadian, or American lab. Conspiracy theories have become an increasingly common part of everyday life in recent years, but a new study on Covid-19’s origins is disproving this theory. A team of international researchers have concluded that the novel coronavirus has entirely natural origins through evolution.
Public genome sequence data on Covid-19, as well as similar viruses, was extensively analyzed for this study. The results show absolutely no indication that the virus was produced artificially or in a lab setting.
“By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes,” comments co-author Kristian Andersen, PhD, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, in a release.
Researchers from Columbia University, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Sydney also worked on this project.
Coronaviruses in general are nothing new. The two most recent examples of a new coronavirus popping up are the SARS outbreak in Asia around 2003 and MERS in the Middle East in 2012. This new strain, largely being referred to as Covid-19, was only brought to the WHO’s attention on New Year’s Eve 2019.
Chinese scientists were the first to sequence the new virus’ genome, and immediately made their findings available to scientists all over the world. Incredibly, this data indeed indicates that Covid-19 has spread to hundreds of thousands after initially being “introduced” to just one person.
It was this genetic template that allowed the study’s authors to investigate the virus’ origins. They discovered that Covid-19’s receptor-binding domain (RBD), a kind of “grappling hook” that attaches itself to host cells, had evolved to target a specific molecular feature of human cells. That feature is called ACE2, and it is a receptor involved in maintaining regular blood pressure. The research team believe this development was the work of natural selection, not some type of genetic engineering.
Why? The virus appears to be so efficient at its newly evolved skill, that it is essentially impossible that modern science could have created such a monstrosity.
Additionally, if some nefarious entity were really attempting to create a deadly virus, they would have based it off of a known illness-causing virus. Researchers say that Covid-19’s molecular structure is quite different from previous coronaviruses, and more closely mimics viruses found in bats and pangolins.
“These two features of the virus, the mutations in the RBD portion of the spike protein and its distinct backbone, rules out laboratory manipulation as a potential origin for SARS-CoV-2” Andersen says.
“It is crucially important to bring an evidence-based view to the rumors that have been circulating about the origins of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) causing COVID-19,” adds Josie Golding, PhD, epidemics lead at UK-based Wellcome Trust. “They conclude that the virus is the product of natural evolution, ending any speculation about deliberate genetic engineering.”
So, what are Covid-19’s true origins? The study’s authors have two main theories. The first is that the virus evolved pathogenically through natural selection within a non-human host and then made the jump to people. If this was the case, it’s likely that the virus evolved within bats, made the jump to an intermediary host, and then was passed onto a human.
The second theory is that the virus was largely non-pathogenic before making the transition to humans, and only evolved into it’s current deadly form within the human population.
At this point, researchers believe it’s nearly impossible to determine which of the two scenarios occurred. That being said, we should all hope for scenario two. If the novel coronavirus did in fact transfer over to humans already in its fully evolved pathogenic form, that would raise the chances of further outbreaks in the future.
The study is published in Nature Medicine.