Lab Leak or Zoonotic Transfer? Leading Biologists Review COVID-19 Virus Origin Evidence

COVID Origin Analysis

Amid debate around the origins of SARS-CoV-2, leading global biologists have reviewed the scientific evidence to help clarify the origin of the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

  • Pre-print paper highlights links supporting zoonotic origin for the virus
  • Zero biological evidence exists for a laboratory leak
  • Focus on lab-leak distracting from work to prevent next pandemic

An international team of eminent biologists, led by Professor Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney and Professor Andrew Rambaut from the University of Edinburgh, has published a critical review paper on the origins of SARS-COV-2 as a pre-print on Zenodo.

The paper summarizes and reviews the existing scientific evidence for the origin of the virus, which causes COVID-19 in humans, concluding that overwhelmingly its most likely origin is zoonotic – a transfer from an animal source to human infection. While the authors say that a laboratory accident “cannot be entirely dismissed” they emphasize that there currently exists zero evidence for such a laboratory origin.

Professor Edward Holmes. Credit: University of Sydney

Professor Holmes said: “Our careful and critical analysis of the currently available data provided no evidence for the idea that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a laboratory.”

The review paper says: “There is no evidence that any early cases had any connection to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), in contrast to the clear epidemiological links to animal markets in Wuhan, nor evidence that the WIV possessed or worked on a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 prior to the pandemic.”

Rather, it argues that “there is a substantial body of scientific evidence supporting a zoonotic origin for SARS-CoV-2.”

The 21 eminent scientists from universities and research institutes around the world warn that a focus on a highly improbable lab origin is distracting from the most urgent scientific tasks to “comprehensively investigate the zoonotic origin through collaborative and carefully coordinated studies.”

The authors warn that without a focus on this line of enquiry, the world will be “vulnerable to future pandemics” arising from new viruses.

Reference: “The Origins of SARS-CoV-2: A Critical Review” by Holmes, Edward C; Goldstein, Stephen A; Rasmussen, Angela L; Robertson, David L; Crits-Christoph, Alexander; Wertheim, Joel O; Anthony, Simon J; Barclay, Wendy S; Boni, Maciej F; Doherty, Peter C; Farrar, Jeremy; Geoghegan, Jemma L; Jiang, Xiaowei; Leibowitz, Julian L; Neil, Stuart J D; Skern, Tim; Weiss, Susan R; Worobey, Michael; Andersen, Kristian G; Garry, Robert F; Rambaut, Andrew, 7 July 2021, Zenodo.
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.5075888

As well as the University of Sydney and University of Edinburgh the affiliations of the 21 authors include the University of Utah (US), University of Saskatchewan (Canada), University of Glasgow (UK), University of California Berkeley (US), University of California San Diego (US), University of California Davis (US), Imperial College London (UK), Pennsylvania State University (US), the University of Melbourne at the Doherty Institute (Australia), The Wellcome Trust (UK), University of Otago (New Zealand), Jiaotong-Liverpool University (China), Texas A&M University (US), King’s College London at Guy’s Hospital (UK), Medical University of Vienna (Austria), University of Pennsylvania (US), University of Arizona (US), Scripps Research Institute (US), Tulane University (US), Zalgen Labs (US).

The pre-print paper will be submitted to a leading journal for peer review and publication.


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  • the 2006 SARS and other major outbreaks recently were all due to lab leaks. As someone who worked in the field many years, i think most people don’t realize how easily something like this can happen. Did the paper go over how there has been no evidence at all for a mediating host, or how the very odd furin cleavage sites came into being in this virus only but none of its closest relatives? And how China is extremely secretive and obstructive in the whole investigation. Think about it.

    • Your obvious prejudice against China is mistaken. China has NOT been "secretive and obstructive". On the contrary, China told the world about the virus at the very beginning and revealed their isolation of the virus to the world -- for free.

      • You communist loving rhetoric is laughable. You’ve contributed nothing to the comments other than show how blind you are

  • I have read this new article. Four of the authors of, "The Origins of SARS-CoV-2: A Critical Review", also wrote "Proximal Origin of SARS-COV-2". One of their conclusions in this new 2021 article is,

    "This demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that RaTG13 is not the progenitor of SARS-CoV-2, with or without laboratory manipulation or experimental mutagenesis."

    This conclusion is spurious at best. They base their conclusion on their analysis of the 1AB gene. They disregard the rest of the genome. But don't point out, that RaTG13 1AB gene is 96% identity similar to Covid-19 1AB gene, according to Zhou below. Slightly less than RmYN02, RpYN06 and PrC31's, but pretty close. More importantly, RaTG13 S gene is 96% identity amino acid similar with Covid-19. RmYN02, RpYN06 and PrC31 S genes are only 76% and 63% similar to Covid-19, and their RBDs even less (60.91%). See Zhou below. Making them less likely Covid-19 immediate progenitor. The better science is represented by the articles,

    "A Novel Bat Coronavirus Closely Related to SARS-CoV-2 Contains Natural Insertions at the S1/S2 Cleavage Site of the Spike Protein", Hong Zhou, Xing Chen, and others

    "Evidence for SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses circulating in bats and pangolins in Southeast Asia", by Supaporn Wacharapluesadee, Chee Wah Tan, and others

    "Identification of novel bat coronaviruses sheds light on the evolutionary origins of SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses", by Hong Zhou, Jingkai Ji, and others

    Zhou stated,

    "Phylogenetic analysis of full-length genome sequences of representative sarbecoviruses revealed that SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) was most closely related to RaTG13, while RmYN02 and the Thailand strains formed a slightly more divergent clade."

    That is a scientific fact. Full-length genome analysis points at RaTG13. For someone to state, "this demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that RaTG13 is not the progenitor of SARS-CoV-2", as these 21 authors do, is to exclude a RaTG13 related type bat, from 50 years ago, as the possible immediate progenitor of Covid-19. That would be bad science. Boni, Robertson, and Holmes own article, 'Viral CpG Deficiency Provides No Evidence That Dogs ....',, Figure 1, says Covid-19 and RaTG13 share about the same "genomic CpG deficiency (ICpG) versus viral genomic GC content". The two coronaviruses are just that similar. RaTG13 related coronaviruses can't be ruled out as possible backbone for Covid-19. The authors' second conclusion,

    "the claim that the virus was already highly adapted to the human host, or somehow optimized for binding to human ACE2, is without validity"

    Again is a conclusion, that does not take into account the high genomic homology of 99.98%, of many of the first Covid-19 victims. Most first victims were all hit by the same highly toxic Covid-19 environment in part of the Hunan Seafood market. All animals had to be destroyed. No outpatient service for many of these first victims, straight to the ICU. Few mutations, small time period to last ancestor (tMRCA), Covid-19 was ready to go at the beginning of the outbreak.

    And the lack of identifiable immediate precursor coronaviruses, point at already highly adapted, not recently evolving from known precursor coronaviruses. Its divergence date says it had been in nature for at least 50 years already. Yes, already highly adapted. The binding affinity of 20% greater than related betacoronaviruses. More residues to bind human ACE2 in the Covid-19 RBD, leading to more van der Wals contacts, according to "Structural and Functional Basis of SARS-CoV-2 Entry by Using Human ACE2", by Qihui Wang and others. Greater binding affinity. This says something about Covid-19’s "optimization". Three O-glycans surrounding the furin cleavage site, to help Covid-19 run under the radar of human immune system detection. Not slightly "optimized", but fully locked and loaded. The 21 scientists all full of logical arguments and plausible scenarios, but short on good science.

    Peter G.

  • Could it be that virologists fear that origin from a lab could break all their fun gain of function toys? Maybe lab origin would cause governments to close labs, meaning fewer virology jobs. This is sort of like asking insurance companies to decide if auto insurance should be mandatory, or physicians if private medical insurance should be mandatory.

    • Is there a significance difference between intentional misinformation, and information given, that doesn't quite reach the level of "best science"? And should this latter information be censored, even though it has been shown to be just as plausible and effective? And who determines what the "best science" is? Who fact checks, the fact checkers? Should those scientists who have the highest IQ's, be held to the highest level of "scientific truth" and ethical standards in their daily work? And what is "scientific truth", since science is ever evolving? Should the desire to sustain a livelihood in a given profession, justify 'apparent' half-truths and misinformation by those in that profession, to continue to make that profession a viable livelihood? Should a person who has common sense (Dr. Watson), who disagrees with persons of high IQ (Sherlock Holmes), be censored? Does having a high IQ, absolve those people from lying? Is having a high IQ, the gold standard for truth? Has it ever been? Sherlock Holmes's Moriarty, and Kaczynski and Dahmer, were mastermind criminals, high IQ. Is there a way to meaningful discern the difference between "scientific information" given, intended to coverup the origins of a coronavirus, from just plain old half-truths intended to mislead for economic or other reasons? What would be the gold standard for such a determination, the high IQ’s of those who consistently present the half-truths, the level of nonsensibility of the half-truths, etc? Who would make that determination? In Christ Jesus.

  • Great, we'll written article but I'm still not convinced. On the one hand you have a wet market operating in the same way it has for about 2000 years, and just up the road there's a germ research lab, however we are expected to believe the virus did not originate from there.
    I'm afraid in this case the old maxim stands, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it's a duck. I rest my case!

    • Your last sentence confirms the fact that you do not understand anything about science.

  • This is germ warfare. CC China has no problem with forced abortions. Do you think they have a problem with killing off the elderly? China has enormous problems with the size of their elderly population as well as feeding their people. The virus was a convenient win -win. Take out the elderly and sell the world ppe and a half assed cure. The WHO and Tedros Gerbreyssus have covered for China all along. Wake up, ccp China is the enemy of mankind.

  • Why does it have to be an "either or" choice? Should we be considering a combination of the two? A inadvertent zoonotic transfer in the lab to the three workers who then went to the hospital, infecting people along the way in places like elevators, ER waiting rooms, etc, then those people spread it to the wet market near WIV and then it blossoms into the full scale nightmare that it has become.

  • Totally agree with you Chris.
    It's not a distraction or improbable. I bet the odds of a lab leak are why higher then winning the lottery or actually dying of (a)Coronavirus.

  • The question (zoonotic vs lab leak) is not simple; but simple risk vs gain/avoidance analysis suggests a strong leaning (big bubble) in the lab leaked/ gain of function/ vested interest/ big funds, quadrant. Or should that last list be in reverse order?!

University of Sydney

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