Coronavirus and China: unconfirmed origin in Wuhan laboratory, but unconvincing denial

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Protective medical workers care for a patient inside an isolated ward of the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the new coronavirus epidemic, in the province from Hubei, China, February 16, 2020. (China Daily via Reuters)

There is no evidence that the coronavirus accidentally escaped from a laboratory, but we cannot take Chinese government denials at face value.

It understandably, many would be wary of the idea that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by a documentary film maker who lived in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, claims to have identified the source of the coronavirus – and much of the information he presents, obtained from public documents posted on the Internet, verifies.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology in China published a post on November 18, 2019, “asking scientists to come and study the relationship between the coronavirus and bats.”

The Google translation of the job offer is: “By taking bats as a research object, I will respond to the molecular mechanism that can coexist with Ebola and the coronavirus associated with SARS for a long time without disease, and its relationship with the flight and longevity. Virology, immunology, cell biology and multiple omics are used to compare the differences between humans and other mammals. (“Omics” is a term for a sub-area of ​​biology, such as genomics or glycomics.)

On December 24, 2019, the Wuhan Institute of Virology published a second job offer. The translation of this display includes the statement, “Long-term research into the pathogenic biology of bats carrying large viruses has confirmed the bats’ origin of major new infectious human and animal diseases such as SARS and SADS, and a large number of new bats and rodent viruses have been discovered and identified. “

Tye says this post meant, “We have discovered a terrible new virus, and we would like to recruit people to deal with it.” He also contends that “the news did not reach the coronavirus until long after that.” Wuhan doctors knew they were treating a group of pneumonia cases as December progressed, but it is correct to say that a very limited number of people were aware of this particular strain of coronavirus and its severity at the time of this offer. ’employment. On December 31, about three weeks after doctors first noticed the cases, the Chinese government notified the World Health Organization and the first media reports of “mysterious pneumonia” appeared outside of China.

American scientist verifies much of the information Tye mentions about Shi Zhengli, the Chinese virologist nicknamed “Bat Woman” for his work with this species.

Shi – a virologist who is often referred to as China’s “bat woman” by colleagues because of her virus-hunting expeditions in bat caves in the past 16 years – left the conference at which she was attending Shanghai and jumped on the next train to Wuhan. ” I was wondering if [the municipal health authority] was wrong, “she said. “I never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, central China.” His studies have shown that the southern subtropics of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan pose the greatest risk of coronavirus jumping to humans from animals – in particular bats, a known reservoir of many viruses. If the coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers having thought: “Could they have come from our laboratory? “

. . . On January 7, the Wuhan team determined that the new virus had actually caused the disease these patients were suffering from – a conclusion based on the results of the polymerase chain reaction analysis, full genome sequencing, antibody tests of blood samples and the ability of the virus to infect human lung cells in a petri dish. The genomic sequence of the virus – now officially called SARS-CoV-2 because it is linked to the SARS pathogen – was 96 percent identical to that of a coronavirus that researchers had identified in Yunnan horseshoes, they reported in an article published in the past month Nature. “It is clear that bats, again, are the natural reservoir,” said Daszak, who was not involved in the study.

Some scientists are not convinced that the virus has passed directly from bats to humans, but there are some problems with the theory that another animal was an intermediate transmitter of COVID-19 from bats to humans:

Analyzes of SARS– The CoV-2 genome indicates a single overflow event, which means that the virus jumped only once from an animal to a person, which makes it probable that the virus was circulating among people before December . Unless more information about animals in the Wuhan market is published, the chain of transmission may never be clear. There are, however, many possibilities. A bat hunter or a trafficker of wild animals could have put the virus on the market. Pangolins carry a coronavirus, which they may have picked up bats years ago, and which is, in a crucial part of its genome, virtually identical to SARS-CoV-2. But no one has yet found evidence that pangolins were at the Wuhan market, or even that vendors were trafficking pangolins there.

February 4 – a week before the World Health Organization officially named the virus “COVID-19” – the newspaper Cell search published a written opinion by scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology on the virus, concluding: “Our results show that remdesivir and chloroquine are very effective in controlling 2019-nCoV infection in vitro. Since these compounds have been used in human patients with a history of safety and have been shown to be effective against a variety of diseases, we suggest that they should be evaluated in human patients with the new coronavirus disease. One of the authors was the “bat woman,” Shi Zhengli.

In her YouTube video, Tye focuses her attention on a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology named Huang Yanling: “Most people think she is patient zero and most think she is dead.”

There has been enough discussion of the rumors of Huang Yanling online in China to prompt official denial. On February 16, the Wuhan Institute of Virology denied that patient zero was one of their employees and named her interestingly: “Recently, there has been false information about Huang Yanling, our graduate institute, claiming she was patient zero in the new coronavirus. Press reports quote the institute as saying, “Huang was a graduate student at the institute until 2015, when she left the province and has not returned since. Huang was in good health and had not been diagnosed with a disease, he added. None of his publicly available research articles are dated 2015.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology Diagnostic Microbiology Laboratory’s webpage still contains “Huang Yanling” as a 2012 graduate student, and his photo and biography appear to have been recently deleted – as did those of two other 2013 graduate students., Wang Mengyue and Wei Cuihua.

Her name still has a hyperlink, but the linked page is empty. The pages of Wang Mengyue and Wei Cuihua are also blank.

(For what it’s worth, the South China Morning Post – a newspaper considered to be generally favorable to Beijing – reported on March 13 that “according to government data seen by post, a 55-year-old man from Hubei province could have been the first person to contract Covid-19 November 17. ”)

On February 17, Zhen Shuji, Hong Kong correspondent for French public radio Radio France Internationale, reported: “When a reporter from Beijing News of the Mainland asked the institute rumors about the patient zero, the institute at first denied that there was a researcher Huang Yanling, but after learning that the name of the person on the Internet existed, admitted that the person had worked in the company but has now left the office and did not was not found. “

Tye says, “Everyone on the Chinese Internet is looking [Huang Yanling] but most believe that his body was cremated quickly and that the people working at the crematorium may have been infected because they received no information about the virus. (The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that handling the body of a deceased coronavirus is safe – including embalming and cremation – as long as standard safety protocols for delivery safety devices have been used sufficiently in China before the scope of the epidemic was known.)

As Tye observes, a public appearance by Huang Yanling would dispel many public rumors, and it is the kind of thing that the Chinese government would quickly organize under normal circumstances – assuming Huang Yanling was still alive. Several officials at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have publicly stated that Huang is in good health and that no one at the institute has been infected with COVID-19. In any case, the mystery around Huang Yanling may be theoretical, but it indicates that the laboratory is hiding something about him.

China Global Television Network, a public broadcaster, exposed another rumor while trying to dispel it in a February 23 report, “Rumors End with the Wise”:

On February 17, a Weibo user who claimed to be Chen Quanjiao, a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, announced to the public that the director of the institute was responsible for the leak of the new coronavirus. Weibo’s post launched a bomb in cyberspace and the public was shocked. Soon Chen herself went out and said that she had never published any information on the report and expressed her great outrage at such identity fraud on Weibo. It has been confirmed that this particular Weibo account has been closed several times due to the spread of false information on COVID-19.

The Radio France Internationale report of February 17 also mentioned the next key element of Tye’s YouTube video. “Xiaobo Tao, an academic at the South China University of Technology, recently released a report that researchers at the Wuhan Virus Laboratory were spattered with bat blood and urine, then quarantined for 14 days. . HK01, another Hong Kong-based news site, said the same.

The name of this doctor is spelled in English with both “Xiaobo Tao” and “Botao Xiao”. From 2011 to 2013, Botao Xiao was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children Hospital, and his biography is still on the South China University of Technology website.

At one point in February, Botao Xiao published a research article on ResearchGate.net, “The possible origins of coronavirus 2019-nCoV”. He is listed as an author, along with Lei Xiao of Tian You Hospital, affiliated with the Wuhan University of Science and Technology. The document was removed shortly after publication, but archived images of its pages can be found here and here.

The first conclusion of Botao Xiao’s article is that bats suspected of carrying the virus are very unlikely to be found naturally in the city, and despite the stories of “bat soup”, they conclude that the bats were not sold at the market and were unlikely to be deliberately ingested.

Bats carrying CoV ZC45 were originally found in Yunnan or Zhejiang Province, both more than 900 kilometers from the seafood market. Bats normally lived in caves and trees. But the seafood market is in a densely populated area of ​​Wuhan, a metropolis [area] ~ 15 million people. The probability was very low for bats to fly to the market. According to municipal reports and the testimonies of 31 inhabitants and 28 visitors, the bat has never been a source of food in the city and no bat has been sold on the market.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have been unable to confirm the presence of bats in the market. Botao Xiao’s article theorizes that the coronavirus originated from bats used for research in one of the two research laboratories in Wuhan.

We examined the area around the seafood market and identified two laboratories carrying out research on bat coronavirus. About 280 meters from the market was the Wuhan Center for Disease Control & Prevention. The WHCDC housed animals in laboratories for research purposes, one of which specialized in the collection and identification of pathogens. In one of their studies, 155 bats, including Rhinolophus affinis were caught in Hubei province, and another 450 bats were caught in Zhejiang province. The Expert in Collection was noted in the Author Contributions (JHT). In addition, he was released for collecting viruses from newspapers and websites nationwide in 2017 and 2019. He described being attacked by bats and the blood of one bat had shot him in the skin. He knew the extreme danger of the infection so he quarantined himself for 14 days. In another accident, he quarantined himself again because the bats peed him.

Surgery was performed on caged animals and tissue samples were taken for the extraction and sequencing of DNA and RNA. Contaminated tissue samples and waste were the source of pathogens. They were only ~ 280 meters from the seafood market. The WHCDC was also adjacent to the Union hospital (Figure 1, bottom) where the first group of doctors became infected during this epidemic. It is plausible that the virus has spread and that some of it has infected the initial patients of this epidemic, although solid evidence is needed in future studies.

The second lab was about 12 kilometers from the seafood market and belonged to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. . .

In summary, someone has been involved in the evolution of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus. In addition to the origins of natural recombination and the intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably comes from a laboratory in Wuhan. It may be necessary to strengthen the level of security in laboratories with high biological risk. Regulations can be made to move these laboratories away from downtown and other densely populated places.

However, Xiao told the Wall Street newspaper that he removed his paper. “Speculation about the possible origins of the publication was based on published articles and media and was not supported by direct evidence,” he said in a brief email on February 26.



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