Thursday, April 2, 2020

Why are some of the US' top scientists making a specious argument about the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2?

1.  I know about biological warfare/biodefense.  I am the first person in the world (according to publicly available literature) to have analyzed an epidemic and demonstrated that the epidemic was due to biological warfare. (1992 study of the 1978-1980 Rhodesian anthrax outbreak, published in Medicine and Global Survival, aka Physicians for Social Responsibility Quarterly (name changed), hosted by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War).  

2.  Prior to genetic engineering techniques being developed (1973) and widely used (since late 1970s), more ‘primitive’ means of causing mutations, with the intention of developing biological weapons, were employed.  Such methods were used by the Japanese beginning in the 1930s, by the US beginning in the 1940s, and by a number of other countries. They resulted in biological weapons that were tested, well-described, and in some cases, used. Such methods were also used subsequent to the 1970s.

3.  These methods can result in biowarfare agents that lack the identifiable signature of a microbial agent constructed in a lab from known RNA or DNA sequences.  In fact, it would be desirable to produce such agents, since it would be difficult to prove they were deliberately constructed in a lab. Here are just a few possibilities for how one might create new, virulent mutants:

a)  exposing microorganisms to chemical or radiological agents that cause high mutation rates and selecting for desired characteristics
b)  passaging virus through a number of lab animals or tissue cultures
c)  mixing viruses together and seeking recombinants with a new mix of virulence factors

4.  Top scientists circled their wagons to protest against “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” in a statement published in the Lancet March 7. (It was published earlier online.) Their reported aim was to "stand with" public health professionals and scientists in China. Many who signed the statement have worked in biodefense. Signers include Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation, and James Hughes, former director of CDC’s National Center for Infectious Diseases and former assistant Surgeon General.

Science magazine wrote an article in support of these scientists, which included the following:
The authors of The Lancet statement note that scientists from several countries who have studied SARS-CoV-2 “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” just like many other viruses that have recently emerged in humans. “Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus,” the statement says.
Five additional scientists soon provided the "scientific evidence" to back up the natural origin claim. These 5 scientists have been affiliated with signers of the statement above, they too have worked in biodefense, and their article was published in Nature Medicine (in the print version) on March 17, 2020.

These scientists  set up a straw man to knock down:  they claimed that had the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 is the official name of the virus) been created in a lab: “if genetic manipulation had been performed,” then a known coronavirus backbone would have been used.  But because no known backbone forms part of SARS-CoV-2, “the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus.”

As USA Today summarized this:

“If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness,” the report said. “But the scientists found that the SARS-CoV-2 backbone differed substantially from those of already known coronaviruses and mostly resembled related viruses found in bats and pangolins.”

Their work was then discussed by Francis Collins, the current director of the NIH.  

Dr. Collins says,

Some folks are even making outrageous claims that the new coronavirus causing the pandemic was engineered in a lab and deliberately released to make people sick. A new study debunks such claims by providing scientific evidence that this novel coronavirus arose naturally...
this study leaves little room to refute a natural origin for COVID-19... 
Finally, next time you come across something about COVID-19 online that disturbs or puzzles you, I suggest going to FEMA’s new Coronavirus Rumor Control web site..."

I know that the groups of scientists who wrote these pieces in the Lancet and Nature Medicine, as well as NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, know that you don't need genetic engineering methods to create a bioweapon.  Like me, they are old, they recall a world before genetic engineering, they know the history of biowarfare, and they know the score.  Why then are they participating in this charade?

Update April 29:  Newsweek has been delving into "gain of function" (which means increasing the virulence of a pathogen) coronavirus research in Wuhan, China which might have contributed to the formation of SARS-CoV-2... and the interesting fact (which I posted about here) that the US government provided financial support for this research.  Newsweek's pieces were posted April 27, and 29.  My other pieces questioning the origin of SARS-CoV-2 are here and here.


David Slesinger said...

Very helpful. Weaponizing a virus hardly guarantees other than an inadvertent release. Nevertheless, I agree with Caitlin Johnstone that the expensive lies from major institutions is a good reason for many people to doubt government announcements.

Juan Txonta said...

It's appreciated. Your opinion, your testimony, the courage. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

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Covid 41 seconds

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What Boris Really Said telegraphed

Anonymous said...

Yes, I wrote a rebuttal to the article that appeared in Nature and suggested that they were acting as coconspirators for even publishing such an article, for not only was no new evidence added, the use of exaggeration, and the total give away that it was propaganda was the insistance that their word was the last unrefutable word on the issue. A technique rarely if ever used by scientists.

Anonymous said...

The attempted cover up says all about who and why they did this. Unfortunately, even this comment is so censored I can't even say what I attempted to say.

Barry Kissin said...
"Kristian Andersen, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, and his colleagues looked at the genetic template for the spike proteins that protrude from the surface of the virus. The coronavirus uses these spikes to grab the outer walls of its host's cells and then enter those cells. They specifically looked at the gene sequences responsible for two key features of these spike proteins: the grabber, called the receptor-binding domain, that hooks onto host cells; and the so-called cleavage site that allows the virus to open and enter those cells.

"That analysis showed that the 'hook' part of the spike had evolved to target a receptor on the outside of human cells called ACE2, which is involved in blood pressure regulation. It is so effective at attaching to human cells that the researchers said the spike proteins were the result of natural selection and not genetic engineering.

"SARS-CoV-2 is very closely related to the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which fanned across the globe nearly 20 years ago. Scientists have studied how SARS-CoV differs from SARS-CoV-2 — with several key letter changes in the genetic code. Yet in computer simulations, the mutations in SARS-CoV-2 don't seem to work very well at helping the virus bind to human cells. If scientists had deliberately engineered this virus, they wouldn't have chosen mutations that computer models suggest won't work. But it turns out, nature is smarter than scientists, and the novel coronavirus found a way to mutate that was better — and completely different— from anything scientists could have created, the study found.

"Another nail in the 'escaped from evil lab' theory? The overall molecular structure of this virus is distinct from the known coronaviruses and instead most closely resembles viruses found in bats and pangolins that had been little studied and never known to cause humans any harm.

"'If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness,' according to a statement from Scripps."

Meryl certainly has expertise that I don't. But the argument here seems stronger than Meryl suggests.

Suspect scientists are not the only ones to make such arguments. For example, Richard Ebright who I know Meryl respects has said: "There’s absolutely nothing in the genome sequence of this virus that indicates the virus was engineered. The possibility this was a deliberately released bioweapon can be firmly excluded.”

The argument that Meryl is targeting is that there is no "genetic manipulation" in COVID-19 which I interpret to refer to modern genetic engineering. The methods she says are being (deliberately) overlooked are all methods that she says are "more primitive means of causing mutations."

I would also submit that just because COVID-19 might have leaked from a bio-lab does not mean that the virus was "constructed in a lab." Bio-labs deal with naturally occurring viruses. They also may be the site where against expectations a virus jumps from an animal to a human, naturally mutating in the process.

I would be appreciative of Meryl's response.

Meryl Nass, M.D. said...

Barry Kissin, Perhaps I have not been sufficiently clear. I do not exclude the possibility SARS-2 was created in a lab. I think it is more likely than not it was created in a lab. But I am not a geneticist and so my opinion may be of little value.

What I said was that historically the creation of biological agents for weapons purposes has involved the use of strains that could not be traced back to the perpetrator. Therefore, were I creating a deliberate bioweapon, I would not construct it from published sequences that would suggest a lab origin. I would construct it or choose it to not leave that evidence of its origin.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr Nass,

Please look into research involving climate evolutionary microbiology. We all agree virologist and bacteriologist are employed in gene manipulation but I would like to submit an argument for considering animal testing and climate manipulation studies.

The CDC or similar may have BSL-3/4 capability but your average climate scientists with little over sight could be playing with super bug fire under guise (funding) of citizen science.

Arizona U has recently found viral connection in G.I tract of veterans with gulf war syndrome.

Thanks for looking out!