Monday, March 7, 2022

The Question of the Origin of the COVID-19 Virus

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

New evidence reported by Amy Maxem in the British journal Nature provides more confirmation on where and how the Covid 19 virus started. It appears to have been in the famous Huanan Seafood Wet Market, Wuhan, China. So far the type of animal that carried the virus before the virus made its jump to humans is not known. Below are found a few quotes from her reporting.
"Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and an author on two of the reports... speculates that the culprits could be raccoon dogs, squat dog-like mammals used for food and their fur in China. One of the studies he co-authored suggests that raccoon dogs were sold in a section of the market where several positive samples were collected. And reports show that the animals can harbour other types of coronavirus.

This does not rule out a competing alternative hypothesis that it originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology where a human was infected who served as an incubator in which the amplification of the virus occurred, then a transmitter ending up at the famous wet market. which was followed by a rapid increase Covid 19 infections radiating out from the market. Of course it may have been released accidentally or intentionally (makes me shiver to think of it) must remain part of this mix of alternative hypotheses which must be considered..

Are the reports as "good as they get?" Maxem writes "Over the past year, Michael Worobey, a virologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a co-author on the papers with Andersen says that his thinking on the origins of COVID-19 has shifted. In May 2021, he led a letter published in Science6 in which he and others pressed the scientific community to keep an open mind about whether the pandemic stemmed from a laboratory,  a controversial hypothesis suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 was either created in a lab or was accidentally or intentionally released by researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. “You want to take this kind of thing seriously,” he explains.

​"​Nonetheless, (Vincent) Munster says he is not completely convinced of two spillover events because the virus might have evolved from one lineage into the other in a person who was immunocompromised. He adds that more data collected from people and animals is needed to answer this question, and to show that the first spillover occurred at the Huanan market. David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University in California, agrees that the preprints are not definitive, and that they exclude the possibility that people were infected prior to the outbreak at the market, but went undiagnosed.But since then, other evidence has come to light that supports a zoonotic origin story similar to that of HIV, Zika virus, Ebola virus and multiple influenza viruses, he says. ​'​When you look at all of the evidence, it is clear that this started at the market.​' Separate lines of analysis point to it, he says, and it’s extremely improbable that two distinct lineages of SARS-CoV-2 could have been derived from a laboratory and then coincidentally ended up at the market.​"​ (My emphasis).

​If you remain intrigued about the question of the pandemic epicenter, the story is not long and covers the ongoing argument, including those who remain doubtful and those who think the evidence is very good. You will leave with a fuller understanding of what a chain of evidence requires and is. It, of course, never leads to proof but in the falls into categories of strong, weak, need/would like more evidence and how difficult this research path is.​

Maxem cites several research papers with links. You can read them in full. They are technical but you may find some of the graphs, illustrations and tables helpful in understanding the research. 

Hurrah for open access for reports of such importance. They are in the public interest.


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