Sunday, June 20

Leading Biologist Tarnishes His “Smoking Gun” Covid Lab Leak Theory | Coronavirus


A Nobel Prize-winning American biologist, who has been widely cited describing a “smoking gun” to support the thesis that Covid-19 was genetically modified and escaped from a Wuhan laboratory, has said he exaggerated the case.

David Baltimore, a distinguished professor of biology, had become one of the most prominent figures cited by proponents of the so-called laboratory leak theory.

Originally cited in an article in the May Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and widely touted ever since, Baltimore seemed to suggest that a specific feature in the Covid-19 genome, known as the furin cleavage site, was the “smoking gun” of the theory that the virus had been contained within a laboratory and then escaped through a leak.

“These characteristics pose a powerful challenge to the idea of ​​a natural origin for SARS2,” he said at the time.

In recent days, however, Baltimore told a fellow researcher, the scientific journal Nature and the LA Times that while he had been accurately quoted in the bulletin, he should not have used the phrase “smoking gun” and was not sure what the characteristic demonstrated with respect to the origins of the virus, natural or otherwise.

In an email exchange with the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore admitted that it had exaggerated the case and was open-minded about it.

“[I] I should have softened the phrase “smoking gun” because I don’t think it proves the origin of the furin cleavage site, but it sounds like that.

“I think the question of whether the sequence was introduced naturally or by molecular manipulation is very difficult to determine, but I would not rule out either origin.”

Baltimore also clarified its position in an exchange with Nature, saying: “There are other possibilities and they need careful consideration, which is all I wanted to say. “

Given its considerable reputation, Baltimore’s dramatic “smoking gun” rendezvous in early May had fueled much of the recent resurgence of interest in Wuhan’s lab leak theory along with renewed reports of unverified intelligence claims that three Staff members of the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with Covid-19 or seasonal flu.

That, in turn, prompted US President Joe Biden to order intelligence agencies to report back within 90 days on what was known about the virus’s origins, amid calls from the World Organization for Health to “depoliticize” the debate on how Covid-19 infected humans for the first time. .

Biden’s call will be underlined in a joint US-EU statement, which is expected to call for “progress on a transparent, evidence-based, expert-led phase 2 study convened by the WHO on the origins. of Covid-19 “. , which is free from interference ”.

Amid renewed controversy, one of the key scientific debates has delved into whether the virus’s furin cleavage site is so new that it occurred through human manipulation rather than by evolving naturally.

Supporting this last theory, some scientists point out that the same characteristic occurs in other common coronaviruses, including those that cause colds and that it appears intermittently in the family tree of coronaviruses.

The Baltimore clarification came as was also challenged in Nature in another of his Covid-19-related claims, that the encoding of a segment found at the furin cleavage site is generally not found in viruses, and a fellow scientist noted that the same encoding was also a characteristic of the Sars virus.


www.theguardian.com

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