Since covid19 kinda took over our world, I geek out and try to learn more about the science of this monster.
Anyway, one great source of scientific information I accidentally discovered (via Gladwell when he talked about himself interviewing Fauci when he was reporting on HIV-AIDS years ago) is a podcast call TWiV “This Week in Virology”. I started listening to TWiV in recent months hosted by a group of virologists that have been recording the TWiV podcast for 10+ years (e.g. Sept 2008: “TWiV 2: Polio is not dead”).
In this May 2020 episode “TWiV 610: Coronavirus FAQ” which at the 1:14:55 timecode, they answered a listener Margaret’s question:
“what are your thoughts on the Wuhan bioterrorism theory?”
The Q&A is about 15 minutes long only. Totally worth your time.
Here is an excerpt from TWiV Helper Kiki’s comments on TWiV 610:
*Margaret: what are your thoughts on the Wuhan bioterrorism theory—intelligent people apparently are going into conspiracy theories? Quote from Ed Young in the Atlantic (quoting someone else) “Journalists still think of their job as producing new content, but if your goal is public understanding for COVID-19, one piece of new content after another doesn’t get you there, it requires a lot of background knowledge to understand the updates and the news system is terrible at providing that knowledge. Instead the staccato pulse of reports merely amplifies the wobbliness of the scientific process, turns incremental bits of evidence into game changers, and intensifies the already palpable sense of uncertainty that drives people towards misinformation.” Plain English explanations:
how do you know SARS-CoV-2 is not man-made, man altered, or genetically engineered? Evidence points to CoV-2 originating in nature NOT in a lab. First you would need a virus to start with that we can then engineer—from all the papers and genomes that are accessible in the databases, there was no virus that we had accessed that was close enough to CoV-2 that could have been human modified to the current form, except a bat virus from 2013 that is still genetically very different. Nobody took a virus that did not infect people and modified it so that it could: first, because scientists currently do not know how to do that, second, because there is nothing genetically close enough to be a precursor. Again scientists wouldn’t know what to do—the viruses being made have all had research into infecting animal vectors like mice, so there is a large gap in knowledge. While it is possible to chemically synthesize this virus from scratch, it is very unlikely that scientists would know what to make. There are differences from the 2013 bat virus in the receptor binding domain (RBD) and the furin cleavage site that make sense for increased infection capability and to make the virus pathogenic to people, but there are also a lot of accrued mutations (eg mistakes and changes in the RNA) that don’t appear to have any particular effect. It is hard to imagine how all of those random changes would have been picked up if this was being made in a lab—seeing all of the random mutations or genetic drift that would be seen if the virus was evolving in nature but not what you would see if the virus was evolving in the lab is the biggest indicator that this is not man-made. There are too many natural-looking mutations to be likely created. The furin site as an intention insertion is off-base as it is not necessary to infect humans. There are bits and pieces that people would not have thought to combine into a successful virus. Also, some of the changes to the RBD are novel and had a very unexpected impact on viral transmission, so this would be incredibly unlikely to have been found and used with no prior research. Bottom line: there is zero evidence that CoV-2 came from a lab and a ton of evidence that the virus came from nature