INDIA: A group of international scientists working on the pandemic virus COVID-19 since its inception in late 2019, including two Pune experts, recently challenged a research paper that states transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 to humans first occurred in the Huanan wet markets in China in November 2019.
Scientists theorised origin of COVID-19 from a virus found in a mineshaft in Mojiang
Monali Rahalkar, hailing from the Agharkar Research Institute and Rahul Bahulikar, from the BAIF Development Research Foundation, collectively wrote a letter, along with other international experts, emphasising that an infected person may have introduced the virus to a market which ultimately became a contagious hotspot.
The two Pune experts have long been urging WHO to launch an investigative research probe into the origins of the novel coronavirus.
Moreover, they have theorised that the COVID-19 most likely originated from a virus found in a mineshaft in Mojiang, China, in 2012. Covid may have been the outcome of a modified version of the mineshaft virus leaking from a lab, they added, supporting claims that the virus could very well be lab-made.
Their theory has been supported by other experts and scientists, including Virginie Courtier-Orgogozo, a French researcher leading the letter that disputes the new research in Science.
“The Huanan market served as an early super spreading event for Covid but provided no definitive evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was first transmitted to humans from wildlife sold there. Out of the 457 animals (18 species) tested from the market, all were negative,” Courtier-Orgogozo wrote in the letter.
The paper published in Science reveals that the positive COVID samples collected from cages and freezers were associated with the activities found in the southwest corner of the wet market, which is frequented by vendors selling live mammals, just immediately before the pandemic.
Rahalkar responded to the claims made in the paper, saying that the environmental samples (collected in January 2020) used in the study are most likely of human origins because the published sequences are identical to the ones found in patients.
“Since the earliest cases at the market occupied stalls too dispersed for direct contamination from 1-2 animal sources and appear to be due to human-to-human transmissions outside of stalls, analysis of the spatial distribution of samples is not relevant to infer the place of the first animal contamination as stated in the paper,” he added.
Incidentally, the refuted statements made by these international scientists were already dissected in an extensive opinion piece published by the Transcontinental Times back in early June of last year, entitled “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: An Accident or a Deliberate Disaster?”
The article written by Niloy Chattaraj encompassed the origins of the novel coronavirus, from disproving connections of the virus strain to possible wet markets and delving deeper into the politics of Science and inadequate funding to reveal that the pandemic may have struck due to a possible laboratory leak.
The article points out that the present SARS-CoV-2 virus belongs to a viral family called beta-coronaviruses, to which the SARS-1 and MERS viruses also belong. This uncanny relationship among the virus strains suggests that the virus had likely been transmitted from bats, via another animal host, to people. Hence, the virus and wet market connection could be easily broken.
Moreover, the article emphasises the experimental approach of Gain of Function (GoF) Research, which alters virus mutation to produce vaccines and map the future trajectory of virus transmission. GoF research took a back seat when the Obama administration limited funding in experiments conducted on SARS, influenza and MERS and was eventually revived with the Trump presidency in 2017.
A Chinese virologist working as a Director for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Dr Shi Zengli, became a prime suspect as her research focused on the SARS virus originating in cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Yunnan, China.
Incidentally, a fellow doctor of genetic engineering, Dr Ralph Baric, had taught Dr Shi the art of genetically modifying bat coronaviruses to attack humanoid species, specifically mutated mice. Surprisingly, Dr Shi’s work was funded by the NIAID, a part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Moreover, suspicions were also raised when Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s leading virologist and physician-scientist, slammed all rumours or potential findings that the virus was a lab-made phenomenon. When in 2020, a group of Indian scientists had ruled that the virus was engineered in a lab with AIDS-like insertions, Dr Fauci responded with strong emails, calling the claims “really outlandish”.
The recent statements made by the group of international scientists become another sequence of possible claims made about the origin of the novel coronavirus.
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