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Thu May 13, 2021, 02:30 PM

Investigate the origins of COVID-19


Jesse D. Bloom, Yujia Alina Chan, Ralph S. Baric, Pamela J. Bjorkman, Sarah Cobey, Benjamin E. Deverman, David N. Fisman, Ravindra Gupta, Akiko Iwasaki, Marc Lipsitch, Ruslan Medzhitov, Richard A. Neher, Rasmus Nielsen, Nick Patterson, Tim Stearns, Erik van Nimwegen, Michael Worobey, David A. Relman

Science 14 May 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6543, pp. 694
DOI: 10.1126/science.abj0016

On 30 December 2019, the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases notified the world about a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China (1). Since then, scientists have made remarkable progress in understanding the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), its transmission, pathogenesis, and mitigation by vaccines, therapeutics, and non-pharmaceutical interventions. Yet more investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic. Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.

In May 2020, the World Health Assembly requested that the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general work closely with partners to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2 (2). In November, the Terms of Reference for a China–WHO joint study were released (3). The information, data, and samples for the study's first phase were collected and summarized by the Chinese half of the team; the rest of the team built on this analysis. Although there were no findings in clear support of either a natural spillover or a lab accident, the team assessed a zoonotic spillover from an intermediate host as “likely to very likely,” and a laboratory incident as “extremely unlikely” [(4), p. 9]. Furthermore, the two theories were not given balanced consideration. Only 4 of the 313 pages of the report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident (4). Notably, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus commented that the report's consideration of evidence supporting a laboratory accident was insufficient and offered to provide additional resources to fully evaluate the possibility (5).

As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general (5), the United States and 13 other countries (6), and the European Union (7) that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve. We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data. A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.

Finally, in this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost (8, 9). We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue.

(Emphasis added)

It's shameful that this is being posted in "Creative Speculation" but this is the only place here that is 'safe' for this topic, shockingly.

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Response to intrepidity (Original post)

Thu May 13, 2021, 02:38 PM

1. my understanding is that the reason it is important to

Last edited Thu May 13, 2021, 03:25 PM - Edit history (1)

understand if it was developed in a lab vs. the idea that it somehow jumped species

- is because of the way it has evolved (that has treatment implications).



also reporting on this development

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Response to intrepidity (Original post)

Thu May 13, 2021, 08:58 PM

2. Fauci himself was quite clear this question needs more research & investigation

Here's Nicholas Wade's piece that seems to have gotten this going:


Here's something of a rejoinder to David Baltimore's "smoking gun" comment (referenced above) from Kristian G. Andersen:

Mr. Andersen being one of the authors of the much referenced March 2020 article in Nature:


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Response to al bupp (Reply #2)

Thu May 13, 2021, 09:34 PM

3. Andersen is being glib about the issue

There are TWO contiguous CGG codons encoding the double Args. CGG is a preferable codon for humans, but never bats. And twice in a row? Slippage is one thing, but c'mon.

Baltimore has solid instincts, imho.

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Response to intrepidity (Reply #3)

Fri May 14, 2021, 12:26 AM

4. Unless a Twitter thread makes it so, I fail to see any glibness on Anderson's part

Nevertheless he very well may be wrong, while Baltimore and Wade are right. As a layman, I'm hardly qualified to critique either hypothesis on technical grounds, and so must rely upon the logic and evidence presented. Even Wade makes clear in his article that to date there's no solid proof for one or the other origin story, just what amounts to the weight of circumstantial evidence. Anderson's argument below makes some points that at least pass my sniff test:

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Response to al bupp (Reply #4)

Fri May 14, 2021, 01:34 AM

5. Andersen frequently battles straw men, from my observation

He's very convincing when he argues for a position that is not the *actual* point of contention. As in those tweets above, he makes plenty of assumptions about what Baltimore meant by his comment, and then argues those points.

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