Is the new coronavirus man-made or just a result of evolution?
From everything that researchers and scientists have discovered so far, nothing suggests that the novel coronavirus was made in a laboratory
US President Donald Trump recently made some comments that implied that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was made in a laboratory. On Friday, Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme responded to these claims by repeating that the novel coronavirus is believed to be natural in origin.
The United States Intelligence Community put out a statement on April 30 itself, saying that while they will continue to investigate how the spread of the virus began, they agree with the “wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified”.
Theories about the origin of SARS-CoV-2
This isn’t the first time that such clarification has been required or been made about the origins of SARS-CoV-2 - rumours of the new virus being a bioweapon or a leaked lab experiment have been doing the rounds since late February at the very least. Each theory becomes more imaginative than the last, but they all have one thing in common - they all blame the outbreak on China. These theories have fuelled the already rising racism towards Asian communities all over the world.
There is some truth in the base of these theories though, which makes it all the more difficult to establish what is fact and what is just a conspiracy theory. It’s true that two labs, located close to the Wuhan wet market where China said the outbreak began, study bat-origin coronaviruses. And some Chinese labs have been publicly criticised for being lax about safety requirements. But that’s where the facts end.
Evidence from SARS-CoV-2 studies
A study published in the journal Nature on February 3, said that at a genetic level, SARS-CoV-2 had 96.2% similarities with a previously known virus called BatCoV RaTG13 - it had been found in intermediate horseshoe bats. The 3.8 percentage point difference, though, was found in the part that connects the virus to the host cells. This makes all the difference in how contagious and harmful the virus turned out to be and suggests that it wasn’t developed based on previously-known virus strains.
Another study, published in the journal Nature on March 17 and conducted by the Scrips Research Institute USA, set out to study the COVID-19 causing virus more closely, which helped them discover that the virus most likely had a natural origin.
Their research showed them that the structure of SARS-CoV-2 is so perfect for binding with the ACE-2 receptors present in the human body and that such precision couldn’t have been designed by humans, given previous findings of the SARS-causing virus (SARS-CoV-1, which shares many similarities with SARS-CoV-2).
The study also acknowledged that while new evidence in the future could possibly support the lab-origin theory, as of now, it seemed unlikely.
We continue to find new information about this virus every day and that’s to be expected with any new pathogen that was previously unknown. But from everything that researchers and scientists have discovered so far, nothing suggests that the novel coronavirus was made in a laboratory — on the contrary, it actually provides some evidence of the exact opposite — that the virus was not genetically modified.
For more information, read our article on COVID-19 Myths and the Truth About Them.
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