When the Covid 19 pandemic started more than a year ago, there was a speculation that the virus was a human engineered one and that it escaped from a Lab in China. It sounded like a wild idea and was dismissed by the scientists as not probable. Chinese wet markets where live animals are sold was put forward as a probable cause. Mainly because the earlier corona viruses (which have a crown-like spike) like SARS1 and MERS followed that route into the humans.
After a year and half of global devastation, the origins of the virus are still not clear. The route via the wet markets has not been established. There are more questions than answers. And the theory of escape from the Lab is gaining strength. At least, it is not ruled out as was done earlier. I read an excellent article by the accomplished science journalist Nicholas Wade. I read his earlier works in the New York Times. This article is very technical and very detailed. It establishes that escape from a Lab is a possibility. And that more investigation is required before any conclusions are drawn. The following link has the complete article.
Firstly, the virus originated in Wuhan, a fairly large city in Central China. Such viruses are found in bats in the caves in Southern China, which is about 1500 kms away. There are no trails of the virus from the caves to the distant city. The bats which host these viruses have a limited range of 50 kms. They could not have flown into Wuhan.
Secondly, Wuhan is the location of Wuhan Institute of Virology, a lab though not a weapons lab, that is involved in the research of corona viruses. The research is headed by the famous scientist Shi Zhengli, also known as the batwoman. She frequently visits the distant caves and collects bats for study in her lab.
Such labs have facilities designated at various levels. The most serious of the viruses like the corona virus are stored and studied in a level 4 environment which is supposed to be the safest. Entry to the lab consists of multiple door, each of them forming an airlock. Scientists wear battle gear to get in. It is reported that some of the research was conducted by Zhengli in a level 2 environment instead of a level 4. Presumably because of the inconvenience of dressing up to go into a level 4 Lab. Level 2 Lab is more convenient but less safe and provides more chances for the virus to escape. The records of the research at the Lab have been sealed by the Chinese government.
The virus is supposed to be too perfect to be found in nature. Its spike protein has two parts. One to recognize a target cell in its host and second to latch on to the surface. These two parts need to be split for the virus to turn into a deadly pandemic. Virus is not made in nature with this split. The virus evolves over a period of time to develop this split. Yet there is no trail of such an evolution. It is as if a deadly virus emerged out of nowhere, fully ready to wreak havoc. Which can happen with an engineered virus escaping from a Lab.
I wanted to know if the virus matches exactly with any virus found in nature, I mean in the bats in the Chinese caves. And if the differences between the two viruses are natural or man made. Mr. Wade has been kind enough to respond quickly to my email. He says that there is no exact match in nature and we are not sure if the differences are engineered ones or naturally evolved.
Well, this is not a conspiracy theory. It is a well researched scientific analysis coming up with a plausible theory. The scientists who initially ruled out the theory more than a year back have some motives in not admitting to this possibility. Their reputations and funding are on the line, apart from the serious blame. US and Chinese leaders also have some motives in not admitting. After all, the research was funded by the National Institute of Health of the US and conducted in China. Given these motives and the secrecy afforded by the Chinese government, we may not know about what actually happened.
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