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Friday, May 28, 2021. Updated Saturday, May 29, 2021

Be wary of news media bearing gifts about SARS-CoV-2

The news media now claim to believe the coronavirus lab leak theory is plausible. Don't trust them


I t is said you aren't paranoid if they're really out to get you. Indeed, suspicion is often justified, as with the latest fad of people accusing themselves of being a racist with as little evidence as when they accuse everyone else of being one. When so many exhibit such an obviously phony belief, it's only natural to wonder what their true motive may be.

It also doesn't pay to overlook an obvious trap. Much of the conservative media and blogosphere are celebrating the fact that the media seem to have done an about-face on the possibility that the Wuhan coronavirus could have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They need to be careful: it smells like a trap.

The Babylon Bee, as usual, has nailed it with an article titled “Facebook Now Banning Anyone Who Says Virus Wasn't Created In Wuhan Lab.”

The fact that even US President Joe Biden now approves of an investigation suggests that whole scheme could be a plan to whitewash it. They knew former President Trump would claim to have been vindicated. Political activists never stop: the Democrats still hate Trump and his followers more than anyone outside the USA can imagine and will say or do anything to prevent him from running again.

The Nature letter

So, where did this virus come from? Let's take a look at that infamous letter to Nature. I dismissed it when it first came out because the editors of Nature had long established that partisan politics ruled what appeared on their editorial page.

The authors wrote “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” The letter also claimed to prove that the virus could not have leaked from the Wuhan lab. It failed to make a convincing argument on both counts.

  1. Receptor binding domain Computational analysis predicts that SARS-CoV-2 is not optimally suited for binding to its receptor ACE2. The authors say “This is strong evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is not the product of purposeful manipulation.” But it is not evidence at all. Assuming the analysis is correct, it tells us nothing about the purpose or skill of any supposed designer.

  2. Furin cleavage site They wrote “it is likely that SARS-CoV-2-like viruses with partial or full polybasic cleavage sites will be discovered in other species.” They cite an article saying that furin cleavage sites have been observed after repeated passage. This is misleading: the site in SARS-CoV-2 is a perfect four-amino-acid insert that could only have arisen by passage in a cell containing some other virus, or by engineering. Of course mutations, insertions, and deletions can occur naturally. They can also be introduced artificially without leaving a trace, so the argument proves nothing.

  3. Backbone The authors wrote “the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone.” “Previously used ” is scientist talk for “described in a paper or database.” If it had been engineered, it is highly improbable that whoever engineered it would have used a known virus that was listed in a database. There is also no doubt that many SARS-like viruses have yet to be discovered. The argument also false on a second count: the lab published the sequence of RaTG13, a likely predecessor.

  4. O-linked glycans Their final argument is that the presence of O-linked glycan sites on the virus, which are sites that eukaryotic cells use to attach carbohydrates to proteins to protect them, argues against a culture-based scenario. Their argument is that this would require prior isolation of a progenitor virus, which has not been described. It would then have required passage in cell culture or animals with ACE2 receptors similar to those of humans, but this is has not been described either.

    “Not described” does not mean “impossible.” It is scientist talk for “not found in the published literature.” This is also not an argument against accidental release. Indeed, it is equally consistent with a sinister interpretation.

Why was that letter published? Since it claims certainty where none exists, the answer must be to politicize the virus and discredit claims that it is lab-related.

The most likely scenario remains a human patient, perhaps with a lingering case of influenza (since influenza viruses contain polybasic furin cleavage sites), being infected with a bat virus. We need to understand how and where that happened. It could happen in a lab worker, a mine worker, or in a batch of cells that became contaminated, as often happens in labs. But given that the press and Nature magazine mischaracterized the story from the beginning, we cannot suddenly start trusting them now. It's a fact of our times that we must work around the news media to find the truth.


Update, May 29 2021 The UK Daily Mail reports receiving a preprint of an article from the Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery by Birger Sørensen and Angus Dalgleish who claim that 'SARS-CoV-2 has no credible natural ancestor' and that it is 'beyond reasonable doubt' that the virus was created through 'laboratory manipulation.' We will discuss this paper here when it becomes available.

Update, May 29 2021 A non-peer-reviewed preprint[1] says the Indian B.1.617 mutants are mutated at the polybasic furin cleavage site, changing it from 681PRRAR↓S686 to 681RRRAR↓S686 (where ↓ shows the cleavage point). This enhances furin cleavage, which requires R (arginine) residues, and it's the type of mutation that can happen in nature.


[1] The SARS-CoV-2 variants associated with infections in India, B.1.617, show enhanced spike cleavage by furin Thomas P. Peacock, Carol M. Sheppard, Jonathan C. Brown, Niluka Goonawardane, Jie Zhou, Max Whiteley, PHE Virology Consortium, Thushan I. de Silva, Wendy S. Barclay bioRxiv 2021.05.28.446163; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.05.28.446163


may 28 2021, 6:33 am. updated may 29 2021, 4:47 am and 12:02 pm


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