A new paper by Li-Meng Yan et al has just been released that demonstrates how the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID19 could be synthesised in the laboratory. The incredibly brave Li-Meng had to flee Hong Kong to bring this report to the notice of the world. Let us hope that journalists in the UK are a tenth as brave and finally cover what almost certainly happened in Wuhan.The report proposes that a base virus (called ZC45/ZXC21) was converted in the lab to SARS-CoV-2. It points to three pieces of evidence covering the base virus that was used in the synthesis, the binding apparatus that the new virus uses to enter cells and a special modification to increase infectivity. The early studies of SARS-CoV-2 show that the base virus has identical E protein and near identical Orf8 protein
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A new paper by Li-Meng Yan et al has just been released that demonstrates how the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID19 could be synthesised in the laboratory. The incredibly brave Li-Meng had to flee Hong Kong to bring this report to the notice of the world. Let us hope that journalists in the UK are a tenth as brave and finally cover what almost certainly happened in Wuhan.
The report proposes that a base virus (called ZC45/ZXC21) was converted in the lab to SARS-CoV-2. It points to three pieces of evidence covering the base virus that was used in the synthesis, the binding apparatus that the new virus uses to enter cells and a special modification to increase infectivity.
The early studies of SARS-CoV-2 show that the base virus has identical E protein and near identical Orf8 protein to SARS-CoV-2. This protein is not conserved and would have mutated had the base virus changed naturally to SARS-CoV-2. Only a sudden artificial change to the base virus could have created SARS-CoV-2. A paper written February 3rd 2020 by F.Wu et al noted that ZC45 was the base virus but this was withdrawn under pressure from the Chinese authorities and the authors are reported to have been punished for their publication.
China seems to have developed a new story of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 involving an alleged bat virus that is close in structure to SARS-CoV-2 called RaTG13. However several authors have challenged this story and it is unlikely that RaTG13 is natural because it cannot easily infect bats.
The binding apparatus that the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses to infect cells (the Spike protein) consists of S1 and S2 proteins. The S2 protein has a high similarity with the base virus' spike protein but the S1 protein is radically different. If it were natural the S1 protein would have evolved or would have been acquired from another virus.
S1 in SARS-CoV-2 is very different from normal bat virus protein. The animal reservoir where the evolution of this protein hypothetically took place could not be bats because the host proteins that the virus spike latches onto to enter cells in bats (ACE2) are not close enough in structure to those used to enter cells in humans (hACE2). Such evolution would have taken a long time and resulted in mutations that would make SARS-CoV-2 Orf8 and E Protein very different from those in the base virus.
The possibility that the S1 protein was acquired from another virus, for instance in pangolins, has been exhaustively investigated and found to be very unlikely. A virus in an intermediate species that infected humans so successfully would also be creating further outbreaks (like MERS from camels). The acquisition of the S1 protein would need to be very recent to avoid the rest of the virus mutating to become very different from the base virus.
Of course it is absurd to seek a hugely improbable natural source of the special human infecting spike protein when the Wuhan Institute of virology employed staff who were expert at amending the spike protein of coronaviruses in the lab to infect humans - see paper by Shi Zhengli et al and Wuze Ren et al .
Li-Meng Yan et al finish their paper with a detailed description of how SARS-CoV-2 was probably created in the lab.
There have been several other authors who have declared that COVID19 was almost certainly a lab escape however, the original condemnation of any mention that SARS-CoV-2 was man made was so general and ferocious that few virologists dared to enter the debate.
The original, Chinese report that suggested the virus was a lab escape was removed from publication at the request of China (See The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus.). It pointed out that biosafety was poor at the Wuhan Virology Labs and that bats were never sold at the fish market in Wuhan.
At the beginning of the outbreak a paper was published, Uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag, which suggested that HIV had also been used as a source for some of the genetic material in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The paper met with a storm of protest from Chinese academics and was withdrawn. The HIV inserts were also noted by Professor Luc Montagnier, the winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering HIV, who agreed that COVID19 was a lab escape. He said: "“With my colleague, bio-mathematician Jean-Claude Perez, we carefully analyzed the description of the genome of this RNA virus,”.."in order to insert an HIV sequence into this genome, molecular tools are needed, and that can only be done in a laboratory."
The principle rebuttal of the man-made virus theory was a paper by the Scripps Institute, that states clearly that the virus was not genetically engineered although the arguments are confused and could be taken as a suggestion that the virus was indeed man made. The article was given considerable publicity by Science Daily and has been widely circulated. The following argument is given for Sars-CoV-2 not being genetically engineered: "It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus. As noted above, the RBD (receptor binding) of SARS-CoV-2 is optimized for binding to human ACE2 with an efficient solution different from those previously predicted." This argument is not convincing because unusual modifications could also be used to suggest human manipulation. The virologist, Dr Michael Antoniou, has publicly raised the point that the Scripps paper that is widely held to "prove" that COVID19 is natural does not do so. The Scripps Institute is also deeply involved with China.