Scientist GM Is Not Impressed by Latest Preprint on Covid Lab Leak Hypothesis

Strong claims require strong proof. Yet new preprint on Covid is making the rounds, amplified by no less than the Economist. This pape and attempts show that Covid must have come from a lab because it is “synthetic”. Covid brain trust member GM finds that the article does not deliver on its claims. However, since it “proves” what many want to believe, it’s unlikely to go away quickly.

I must confess to regarding with extreme prejudice any paper that has a prominent “Lay Summary” section. That signals that it is intended to shape popular opinion, as opposed to make its case on scientific merit.

From Endonuclease fingerprint indicates a synthetic origin of SARS-CoV-2:

Lay Summary To construct synthetic variants of natural coronaviruses in the lab, researchers often use a method called in vitro genome assembly. This method utilizes special enzymes called restriction enzymes to generate DNA building blocks that then can be “stitched” together in the correct order of the viral genome. To make a virus in the lab, researchers usually engineer the viral genome to add and remove stitching sites, called restriction sites. The ways researchers modify these sites can serve as fingerprints of in vitro genome assembly.

We found that SARS-CoV has the restriction site fingerprint that is typical for synthetic viruses. The synthetic fingerprint of SARS-CoV-2 is anomalous in wild coronaviruses, and common in lab-assembled viruses. The type of mutations (synonymous or silent mutations) that differentiate the restriction sites in SARS-CoV-2 are characteristic of engineering, and the concentration of these silent mutations in the restriction sites is extremely unlikely to have arisen by random evolution.

From GM via e-mail:

This one has understandably received a lot of attention, but it does not really prove what it claims because it doesn’t explain much about the observed properties of the virus.

First, there are literally thousands of restriction enzymes. They focus on just 2-3 of them because supposedly those have been used in the past to engineer CoV genomes, and then they claim that the distribution of those sites in the genome is too non-random to arise naturally.


But we have the second problem, which is that if this genome was stitched together through such a procedure, it would be stitched together from recognizable pre-existing pieces. In fact people have been doing exactly that kind of experiments ever since Omicron appeared (and even before that, but especially once we had multiple really distinct strains), in which they swap pieces from different strains/variants and study the properties. The other recent study receiving much unwarranted attention — the one about the “80% lethal” strain — also featured that kind of work.

But the SARS-CoV-2 genome does not look stitched from known previous strains, it has unique mutations all over the place.

So if we are to stick with the lab origin hypothesis, that means that one has to propose one of the following:

1) There was a vast collection of sarbecovirus strains in Wuhan that has been since then carefully hidden, and it was a stitch job from pieces that originated from various strains within that collection. And the SARS2 genome only appears to have a lot of unique mutations because we have never seen those other strains. I guess that is possible, but since the pandemic started there have been serious efforts to sequence as much of bat coronaviruses as possible, and the only thing that popped out of those was the strains from Laos with a very similar RBD to that of SARS-CoV-2. But only the RBD, the rest of the genome was much more divergent. So that possibility does not seem very likely.

2) The virus underwent prolonged evolution in the lab, through serial passaging involving some combination of cell lines and live animals. Which is how it accumulated so many mutations relative to whatever ancestors it had. This is much more likely, and even I have in fact long suspected that there might have been something of the sort involved in the origins of the pandemic. However, there would likely still be a recombination signature if there was stitching together involved, and we don’t really see that.

Sadly I can’t access the supporting tweets, but another was less kind:

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Saw an article about this paper by German & American scientists on an RT article and they did not seemed to be impressed with it either. In fact, they linked to a tweet by Kristian Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California who said-

    ‘Kristian G. Andersen
    A recent preprint purported to show that SARS-CoV-2 is of synthetic origin, but it is so deeply flawed that it wouldn’t pass kindergarten molecular biology.

    Below is an analysis with more relevant SARSr-CoV genomes, including the inferred recCA from @jepekar’

    However, if you were in need of “scientific” papers to launch a case against China saying that they were responsible for the present Pandemic, then it would be ideal. After all, it need not be true. Since the fight against Russia is winding up before long, I would suggest that now some DC groups want to gear up for the fight against China. And papers like this will be the first ammo.

    1. Ignacio

      Andersen provides with another tweet storm that is even better.

      It describe how idiotic is the idea of the “fingerprint” is because the enzymes mentioned are precisely so selected because you can use them without leaving fingerprints since the cutting sites are outside the recognized sequences. When you design construct you don’t want to leave “fingerprints” not because someone could find them but because any mutation you are forced to introduce, even if silent, may have unintended consecuences to the viability of the construct and your results might be flawed.

      1. Basil Pesto

        There were quite a lot of threads on this on the weekend. It generated quite the controversy. It seems like at least one of the authors of the paper are inclined to bad faith and to unduly mix politics with science. Which would make sense if the paper is as sloppy as you and many others have said it is.

        re: the “80% fatality” strain being engineered in a US lab story that came to some prominence last week and alluded to by GM in the main post, this thread by Florian Krammer takes a more balanced view. Seems like it was blown out of all proportion but perhaps those here more familiar with the subject matter have a different take.

    2. BeliTsari

      All it ever took for me: Jon Stewart being put onto Colbert to SCREAM how yuppie chillunz were all to BELIEVE preposterous agitprop, to somehow destroy Chi-NA’s AGW mitigating equities, zombie Biden’s Administration was tasked with helping senile multinational oilgarchs short/ CRUSH (before we all spent Trump’s COVID cash affixing rooftop PVs; to power Kia/ BYD PHEV and smart efficient & renewable 5G doo-dads & gee-gaws, we’d cut fossil fuel use >75% in a single year). Cui bono?

  2. Ignacio

    The paper is pure BS. The only “experiment” they make is, without explanation on how they do it, how many sequences they obtain etc. some “in silico” mutagenesis using the famous RaTG13 and other virus as templates to see if they can obtain something that resembles the restriction pattern of SARS CoV 2 with two restriction endonucleases. Unsurprisingly, they don’t obtain such outcome. Do they bother to provide a statistical analysis on the probabilities of that occurring? 1 in the billion? ¿One in the trillion? No they don’t. They provide with lots of unsubstantiated statistical claims without bothering with the calculations involved on such claims. Those are statements of faith, not science.

    This is an example of pseudoscience.

  3. Ignacio

    If anything this paper shows how far some are ready to go to “show” that SARS CoV 2 is a lab thing. My question is why it is so sexy the idea that the pandemic was the result of a lab leak, why is it that we so persistently need someone to be blamed. Why is it that we cannot understand that something like SARS CoV2, HIV, RSV, measles,… whatever virus are just things that occur and that some of our common activities with animals, like farming, increase the probabilities of these things occurring.

    If the need to put a blame on someone is so powerful today, this is, IMO, telling about how things are going badly in our societies. We are no longer the self confident humans we used to be discovering things, progressing in science. We are herds in search of someone whom we can direct our hate and phobias. Personally, I am not free of such disease, it has happened to me before and will happen to me again and again. To ‘know’ it was a lab thing reinforces our biases, doesn’t make us happier but we can say, “you see?, I told you so! I was right! F%cked but right!

    1. lyman alpha blob

      If the first rona outbreak were in Madagascar and there was a lab in Wuhan doing US funded research on coronaviruses, I don’t think so many people would be inclined to think the virus might have leaked from a lab.

      However the outbreak did start in Wuhan and if it is of natural origin, you have to admit it would be an astounding coincidence to have jumped from animals to humans in the exact place that there was a lab studying this very phenomenon.

      Most people are not practicing virologists but are familiar with Occam’s Razor.

      That being said, this particular study could very well be bunk.

      1. Ignacio

        “Astounding coincidence” is another very much cited explanation for lab origin. There is a lab, it must have come from a lab. If not, any new virus should have come from Madagascar… Clean reasoning there. It doesn’t matter if there is a wet market and constant trading of wildlife.

        1. lyman alpha blob

          I used Madagascar as an example since presumably there is no biolab there. There are also presumably no biolabs in any number of other Chinese cities where wet markets do exist. And yet the outbreak happened in Wuhan where there is a lab. Just trying to answer the question you asked as to why people believe what they do. And the reason people want to blame someone is because nobody anywhere has any trust whatsoever in the authorities for quite valid reasons. Three years into the pandemic and Western health authorities are still recommending washing surfaces for an airborne virus and not recommending masks.

          Personally, although I am not a health professional, this theory which I first heard about on NC makes a lot of sense to me: TL;DR: there was an actual bat coronavirus which killed a few people which was brought into the Wuhan lab for study and possibly later escaped. Combines both ideas of the zoonotic origin and escape from a lab based on actual documented facts. They know who the first people who contracted it were and how and where they got it from – no speculation as to the origin at least.

          Perhaps I personally would be less skeptical and more trusting of government sources on this issue if prior to the rona outbreak, I hadn’t been asked to believe that the Skripals were poisoned by an extremely deadly bioweapon that kills in minute doses and that only the dastardly Russians could produce. Except the Skripals didn’t die although no one is allowed to talk to them over four years later. And there just happens to be a UK biolab that could produce this same poison right next to Salisbury.

          1. Paua Fritter

            I used Madagascar as an example since presumably there is no biolab there.

            In fact there is a Pasteur Institute in Antananarivo where virology research is done, including engineering of recombinant viruses.

            If there were political mileage to be made out of blaming Madagascar, then I’m sure there’d be plenty of people who’d be happy to point the finger at Malagasy, French, etc, scientists, in the event of a zoonotic outbreak in Madagascar.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Sorry, Occam’s razor fails with cherry picked info.

        Wuhan lab immediately tested all staff after IIRC 7 alpha cases in wet market. No one positive.

        Yes, possible poor waste disposal could be a contagion vector but labs have haz mat bins.

        And the market is 5 miles from the lab. How can you explain a cluster at the wet market and NO other place? If some garbage handler was the actual alpha case, you’d expect to see an infection earlier or in parallel in his household. or from sitting next to people on public transportation on the way to the market.

        One example of alternate theory (I am way past bed time, this is meant to be illustrative, not dispositive):

        1. lyman alpha blob

          Thanks for the link – very interesting. Here’s where I want more info though –

          “Swab samples were taken from market surfaces like floors and cages after Hunan market was closed. Samples that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were linked to stalls selling live wildlife.”

          So they closed the market to test. Presumably at the time of closure they were not sold out of everything. But they took samples from surfaces and then linked those to specific stalls. But why couldn’t they test the animals themselves to find the virus actually present within a specific animal? Not being snarky – serious question, albeit a rhetorical one since you didn’t write the article and I did see that you didn’t intend it to be dispositive.

          The reason I ask is because in the link I posted above in reply to Ignacio, researchers were able to identify a coronavirus that came from bats in a specific cave and the specific human beings that were infected by it.

        2. BlakeFelix

          To my understanding that’s all according to China though, and to my understanding they have been the opposite of transparent and open about letting any kind of independent investigation proceed. Assuming that the Chinese are intentionally covering up a lab leak, pretty much all their data is suspect, and that they won’t allow independent verification isn’t reassuring.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Put the shoe on the other foot. If this has started in the US, would we have let the WHO or the UN in? Look at how “transparent” we are being about the bioweapons labs in Ukraine, which our DoD funded.

            China has the worst animal husbandry practices, something not sufficiently acknowledged. Small farms regularly have multiple types of exotic species living next to each other before they go to market.

            1. BlakeFelix

              That’s all true. They might well be secretive even if innocent. IMO there isn’t any smoking gun evidence of a lab leak, but I haven’t been convinced that there wasn’t one either. I’m just pointing out that most of the evidence used against one has as its sole source the CPC, who I don’t trust not to doctor it if it makes them look bad. You are correct that they might doctor it anyway on general principles.

              1. ArvidMartensen

                Agree. If this was a case in a court of law, then there would be lots of circumstantial evidence to wade through on both sides.
                Such as, labs working on chimeric SARS-CoV-2 viruses for many years and publishing papers about such research, the first cases may may have come from a wet market but no carrier animal identified as yet, in the US there have been at least hundreds of cases of lab accidents with recombinant virus DNA over the years
                And red flags such as the involved governments and researchers throttling information about what happened in the period November 2019 through the start of the pandemic, and are still throttling this information (for example to the WHO and to the Lancet investigation).
                So an impartial observer would say the jury is still out. But those who hold firm views about it for various reasons will argue until they are blue that it is one or the other.
                Science is not immune from strong feelings, just look at what happened to the doctor who identified water as the source of cholera outbreaks in the UK. Ridiculed and hounded by his profession.

    2. Robin Kash

      The discussion is not about blame. Establishing the origin(s) of COVID would most certainly aid in developing approaches to dealing with our current situation and forestalling future outbreaks. A virus that emerged from the wild versus one that was lab-developed requires mobilizing very different resources.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        We’re not remotely interested in mobilizing resources. Look at the aggressive rejection of masking, per Lambert’s post yesterday, and our ongoing demonization of China’s zero Covid policy. How dare China mess with global supply chains to protect its people? Markets uber alles!

    3. Telee

      The key to concern about the SARS-COV-2 is the presence of the unusual furin cleavage site ( FCS ) that gives the virus its enhanced transmissibility and pathogenicity. It is the only virus in the subgenus of which SARS-COV-2 is apart of which has this sequence. While it has been asserted that the amino acid sequence for FCS is a sequence that has not been seen before and therefore not something one would expect to be made in a laboratory this is not true. The amino acid sequence seen in SARS-COV2 is the same sequence that exists in the human body. It is found in the epithelial sodium channel system (ENaC.) The FSC in the ENaC allows entry into epithelial cells present in many tissues such as lung, kidney, colon etc. allowing the regulation of fluid exchange in our cells. Indeed, the FCS of the SARS-COV-2 is in competition with the FSC of the ENaC and infection results in a decrease in ENaC function. In 2018 there were grant proposals submitted to DARPA to fund the the fusion of the ENaC FCS into SARS like viruses to increase their infectivity. It has been done at least 11 times always resulting in enhanced infectivity. While this does not prove the origin of this unique feature it does warrant further investigation. In view of these facts, the above paper and stated opinions have little relevance. It is the presence of the FCS that is the key to cell entry for the virus as well as our naturally occurring ENaC.

    4. Mike

      Respectfully, you may be missing how the lesson of Covid may be from our attempt to reign nature into our dominion. It can both be from a lab leak, via our exploration of nature, not just gain of function. No one to blame but ourselves as a species, whereby our attempts to be the masters of the universe creates time and time again renewed lessons on Pandora’s box.

  4. GramSci

    “My question is why it is so sexy the idea that the pandemic was the result of a lab leak, why is it that we so persistently need someone to be blamed.”

    The question I find “sexy” is why the U.S. government is conducting gain-of-function research without independent review. And if there has been independent review, or if the research being conducted is not gain-of-function, why has the government redacted or refused to divulge any potentially exculpatory evidence, as for example Sachs has alleged?

    Many aspects of this pandemic have been blameworthy, and, IMHO, governments have not behaved in a manner that absolves them of suspicion.

      1. GramSci

        Of course the implicated governments deny conducting any gain-of-function research, and NGO researchers hoping for military contracts must similarly deny its existence, so the authorities dismiss the kind of gain-of-function research I am referring to as a conspiracy theory.

        I think the best recent explanation of that theory came from Jeffrey Sachs, who belongs to neither of the aforementioned groups, yet chaired the Lancet Commission on Covid-19:

        1. square coats

          (caveat: most/all of this stuff is above my pay grade – or consider me not to even have a pay grade to start with..)

          Reading GM’s first supposed proposal brought to mind for me this interview with Sachs that GramSci linked to, specifically what he says starting at about 11:15 into it:

          “in a 2017 proposal to the defense department, page 10 says we have 180 previously– more than 180 previously unreported viral strains, and on page 11 it says we’re gonna look for proteolitic cleavage sites and where they don’t exist we’re gonna insert them”

          Would that constitute such a hypothetical collection as GM states as necesarry for possibility #1? Also I’m recalling that there was some issue early on with sequences data the Wuhan lab released (here’s a nyt article about it which was just the first one I found searching just now, it probably is not the most quality discussion). Not sure if that could point at all to some kind of larger efforts to hide certain strains?

          Hopefully if I’m totally wrong here I’m not wrong in a way that’s also annoying.

          Also I definitely share the skepticism The Rev expressed in his first comment.

      2. AstoriaBlowin

        Ralph Baric at UNC engineered a coronavirus that could infect humans back in 2014 before gain of function research was shut down for being high risk.

        The US bio weapons lab at Fort Detrick has had to be shut down in the past for safety failures. The presence of an engineered coronavirus in the US plus weird stuff like unexplained respiratory illness in Virginia in 2019, and the vaping lung illness thing the same summer raise some possibility that COVID-19 comes from a U.S. lab rather than a Chinese one.

        1. Ignacio

          By chance, Did you read the supposed gain of function article you cited? What they did, by replacing a mouse CoV backbone spike gene by bat infecting viruses spike proteins was to demonstrate that such chimeric viruses, when inoculated in lab conditions can effectively replicate on mouse and human cells harbouring ACE 2 receptors. So, after SARS CoV1 the authors were arguing that care should be taken not to challenge us again with horseshoe bat origin viruses.

          From “can effectively replicate” in lab conditions to result in a pandemic like Covid, let me say there is a long shot. A very long one in which you need them to acquire for instance air borne transmission capabilities for human to human transmission. As for the second link, you are making shit up, aren’t you?. Many many outbreaks surge now and then in many places and you have to demonstrate these are due to new viruses much before blaming a fully new creature made in a US lab. Show evidence. Nothing of it in your links.

        2. lyman alpha blob

          The vaping lung illness thing was pretty definitively proven to be the result of some company using an oil for its vape pens that wasn’t meant to be heated. The bad sourcing caused a lot of injury and death before it was tracked down. Can’t find the link right now, but I do remember reading an extensive investigative report that traced the problem to one company sourcing the wrong oil.

    1. Pat

      Shades of Benghazi. Think about it. The big question about that should have been why arms were being run through a supposedly diplomatic station and who was allowed to make that happen. The secondary question should have been why it was so important that we interfere militarily in this area. Instead it was about everything but those things. Nothing was determined, nothing changed, no corrections have been made.

      Almost every response or concern about this has either been used as a cudgel or blame pointing. Nothing that should be corrected will be. Nothing good will come from it.

  5. John R Moffett

    I have followed this story closely from the beginning, and I am a research biologist so I read the primary literature. I will take a look at this article and update my comments. But look at this Covid lineage diagram. This shows the number of mutations and variations that have emerged (the known ones) in less than 3 years. This is an absurd level of genetic reshuffling in such a short time. If the genome of this virus was artificially altered, then there would be a lot of gene reshuffling to get back to a stable condition. Of course, there is the possibility that this is about adaption to a new species (humans) but I have never seen a viral lineage diagram that looked like this after only 2 1/2 years of genetic change. This is unprecedented.

    1. Ignacio

      Any new virus coming from a different host, as part of its adaptation to humans, and with such extensive infection base is likely to undergo a lot of mutations to adapt to the new host. This is “Evolution 101”. What is unprecedented is that we have been able for the first time to follow the evolution of such a new and large pandemic in nearly real time.

      But here we same the same bias all over again:
      1) -From a post yesterday in links-. SARS CoV 2 bad behaviour strongly suggest it comes from a lab.
      2) US labs are doing unsupervised gain of function research—> in must come from a lab.
      3) SARS CoV 2 show such extensive variability it must come from a lab.
      4) Because restriction sites!
      5) Because furin cleavage motif —-> a lab certainly!

      All roads lead to Rome.

      1. Sibiryak

        There’s a big difference between “could have come from a lab” and “must have come from a lab.”


        1. Ignacio

          Things start to get really funny when people start making likelihood guesses. For instance, the very same article that prompted this post.

            1. Ignacio

              No I don’t. What I usually say is the the origin of all known human viruses is the same. Starts with N and ends with e. But we choose to ignore it. We also choose to ignore deliberately that dozens of viruses have so far been sequenced from Rhinolophus bats and these sequences show that Sarbecovirus form a mosaic population in Rhinolophus made by recombination events and SARS CoV 2 is precisely that: a mosaic of sequences each one resembling other sequences that have been found in nature in different Sarbecovirus isolates (and more yet to be analysed). You can safely ignore reality and bet on the lab hypothesis because there is where you will find more likely minded people.

      2. Ghost in the Machine

        Actually, the significant amount of genetic mutation since the discovery of the SARS CoV 2 pandemic almost 3 years ago is interesting to me for a different reason. Ignacio is right that we would expect a lot of mutations to occur in adaptation to a new host. However, SARS CoV 2 was well adapted to the human host right away. Despite this adaptation, the original virus had remarkedly little genetic diversity at the beginning. This was commented on at the time as unusual. When spillover occurs, there is a struggle of natural selection where a virus adapts to the intermediary host and then adapts to humans. This creates some diversity. This usually requires a number of mutations for the virus to be effective in a new host. There is no evidence of this genetic struggle for SARS CoV 2 where there was for SARS1 and MERS. We now know SARS CoV 2 is prone to mutation, so where was the genetic diversity expected of a battle for a new host? Because of this unusual lack of genetic diversity it was hypothesized by some that the leap from bats to humans was direct, but SARS CoV 2 does not infect bats very well, so back to an intermediary. Or a lab leak. You would expect this lack of genetic diversity in a lab leak.

        As another commenter has noted, the precursors for ‘the stitching’ have not been found in nature or the lab. The databases and notebooks that might contain this information are being aggressively protected so it looks like nature is where we have to look for the time being.

        Likewise any trace of the intermediary host has not been found. This is the analogous evidence for the natural origin hypothesis as the precursors for the lab leak . The intermediary host for SARS1, civets, was found within a half year and the intermediary host for MERS, camels, was found within a year. Nothing for COVID19 so far after 3 years.

        The accusation of xenophobic attacks on the Chinese often comes up when people bring up the lab leak hypothesis suggesting disingenuousness. It is clear from all sorts of paper trails, that if the lab leak is true, the US is plenty culpable as well. The accusation of Chinese xenophobia is reminiscent of the claims of antisemitism to shut down criticism of Israel. That said there are clearly Chinese xenophobes in this debate, just as there really are antisemites criticizing Israel.

        Maybe all roads don’t lead to Rome, but some roads need to lead to the natural origin hypothesis. ‘Pandemics have always happened this way in the past’,is a significant prior for a Bayesian analysis. And it is correct that a very strong piece of evidence needs to be found to overcome such a prior and that hasn’t been provided yet. But, other priors include the common occurrence of lab leaks (even smallpox) and the availability of techniques to create the virus, as documented in leaked DARPA grants. There are many things that have appeared on the Earth for the first time (overcoming weighty priors) due to human technology. If it is a lab leak, this would just be another first in a long line.

        1. Telee

          A chimera containing the spike protein from omicron with the original Wuhan strain. This was done by a level 4 gain of function lab in Boston that I believe ( not quite sure ) associated with Boston University. The result is a lethal virus that killed 80% of the infected mice. If this one escapes it is painful to contemplate the consequences. The debate about the origin of SARS-COV-2 as to whether it came from nature or a lab has overshadowed what I consider the more relevant question of why should we be doing gain of function research. When President Obama suspended funding for gain of function Dr. Fauci lobbied and appealed to Obama to resume funding. Dr. Fauci, a strong advocate of this research, was questioned in Congress as to the rational for this research his answer ” was to get ahead of nature.” What does that mean? This rational is not good enough for me. I think the important question is why are we supporting and allowing this research to continue?

          There are many other links reporting this.

          1. Dean

            BU has a level 3 biosafety facility in which these studies were performed.

            I would describe this as a loss of function study rather than GOF. It is true that the omicron spike in the original Wuhan Sars-CoV-2 killed 80% of the mice but the original Wuhan Sars-CoV-2 killed 100% of the mice (while the omicron variant was not lethal). So if you are worried about escape the original Wuhan strain may be worse.

            The article concludes:
            “This indicates that while the vaccine escape of Omicron is defined by
            53 mutations in S, major determinants of viral pathogenicity reside outside of S.”

      3. GM

        SARS CoV 2 bad behaviour strongly suggest it comes from a lab.

        It actually isn’t even that bad, it is an attenuated SARS virus.

        Of course this is also why we are in this mess — it was “mild” enough to be ignorable with a weak vaccine.

        But it is in no way uniquely bad, quite the opposite.

        It’s just that people don’t know the background so it’s easy to trick them into believing all sorts of BS

      4. John R Moffett

        As a scientist, I am waiting for more definitive evidence. There is evidence that supports a natural source and evidence that there was a lab source. I am still 50:50. There is a lot of GoF research going on with viruses, including coronaviruses, so the idea that there was a lab leak is not outlandish. The Wuhan lab was near the epicenter, and was doing GoF coronavirus research on an NIH grant.

        see here:

        That alone should make everyone think

    2. LY

      Are the number of mutations purely a function of time?

      What I’m getting at is the odds of a winning lottery ticket are low, but when hundreds of millions of tickets are played in a shorter amount of time… well, more “Jackpots” occur at a higher rate.

      1. Ignacio

        Not exactly. When you subject populations to new situations, stresses… evolution may accelerate. RNA genomes are quite a different thing compared with the rest and evolutionary clocks should be handled with care in this case. A virus jumping host would be a good example of rapid evolution to adapt to new host factors. Yet we have Omicron, which not being exactly new to humans, have so far evolved quite rapidly generating thousands of variants in relatively short time but I guess there is no other previous variant that can compare with Omicron regarding the number of people infected… you can believe, following certain popular line of reasoning, that Omicron is a lab thing. In fact nobody knows exactly how it suddenly surged.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            We were all over this via GM, who also correctly predicted that it would be highly immune evasive and spread very rapidly. Late November 2021. Please search the archives.

  6. Mike

    And there should still be great emphasis on how you can have a lab-leak origin story without modification. If you want to posit that tampering with or the search for wild viruses is dangerous then people should still be worried since programs like DEEP VZN have been approved and are being pursued last I checked.

    My understanding is programs like DEEP VZN have the potential for greater harm for possibly a simple reason. You are creating maximum exposure to viruses and the potential for researchers to do harmful modifications to viruses so you can gain a timely edge or understanding of what is out there. Weigh that against the fact the Moderna developed the covid vaccine in a matter of days and you realize the constraining the factor may not be about understanding the dangers ahead of time, or design of the vaccine, but mostly on the safety/efficacy side of the research. These programs could be a literal pandoras box.

  7. Tom Stone

    We do not have the evidence to show that the Virus came from Nature or a Lab.

    I feel that a lab leak is more likely than not partly due to the official response by US and Chinese Authorities.
    The is no “Preponderance of the evidence” because there is very little evidence, which is interesting in itself.
    It only takes one particular mutation being transmitted once to set things off…sometimes shit happens.
    And quite often Human beings have oopsies and way too many people (Really smart people, you would not believe how smart!) are playing with these pathogens.
    I once had a very intelligent man tell me huffily “Tom, I don’t plan to have any accidents”.
    We will have lab leaks from time to time, because People.
    Covid may not be one but it is sure doing a heck of a job of killing and crippling people

  8. Keith Newman

    Jeffrey Sachs who was chair of The Lancet’s Covid 19 Commission for two years has stated recently:
    “I chaired the commission for the Lancet for two years on COVID. I’m pretty convinced it came out of U.S. lab biotechnology, not out of nature, just to mention. After two years of intensive work on this. So it’s a blunder in my view of biotech, not an accident of a natural spillover. We don’t know for sure, I should be absolutely clear. But there’s enough evidence that it should be looked into. And it’s not being investigated, not in the United States, not anywhere. And I think for real reasons that they don’t want to look underneath the rug.” (
    It is not possible to credibly brush aside Sachs’ concerns.
    There should most definitely be a full investigation into the origins of Covid but since this is neither in the interests of the U.S. nor of China it is very unlikely to happen.
    I do find it startling that despite the death of 18 million people from Covid no such investigation will occur and perhaps more importantly, potentially very dangerous lab studies will continue.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Jeffrey Sachs is an economist. So he can easily be snowed by scientists with an axe to grind. He has no medical or biological or bioengineering training, let alone bench experience, which members of our Brain Trust have.

    1. hunkerdown

      After two weeks it hasn’t escaped the GOP grassroots. The personal injury tort case demands a jury trial (guaranteeing partisan Dems will hang it). Being not a lawyer, I dare not interpret it further, but given that much and the presentation so far, and no hat tips from Malone or other major COVID dissidents that I can find, the circumstances around the filing, regardless of its merits, smell like virtue signalling and pro-institution cooling-out of the marks to me.

      1. GramSci

        Good observation that Dems are likely to hang any such jury, but if the case proceeds to discovery, Daszak could be forced to turn over some of the Wuhan lab records he refused to divulge to Sachs. The truth will never compensate for the damages Covid has caused, so it’s not really about the jury verdict. We should have the truth at all costs.

        1. hunkerdown

          Oh yes, I didn’t mean to slight discovery, which would be a huge win for the people, iff it gets that far. Spooks might commit egregious acts to try to shield US companies from accountability (their job, after all) such as steering the appeal toward a hanging judge like SDNY’s Loretta Preska.

  9. Dean

    The lab leak idea is discussed in many TWIV podcasts. The most recent ones being #940 with Eddie Holmes and the latest #948 with David Quammen the author of “Breathless.”

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