There have been media reports stating that US President Joe Biden has ordered aides to find answers to the origin of SARS-CoV-2, including investigating the lab leak theory.
Dr Jonathan Stoye, Group Leader, Retrovirus-Host Interactions Laboratory, The Francis Crick Institute, said:
“The genome of SARS-CoV-2 shows more than 1000 individual differences from its closest known relative, RaTG13. Given the rate of nucleotide change observed in virus spreading through the human population over the past year it seems extremely improbable, perhaps impossible, that changes spanning such an evolutionary distance could have occurred during virus growth in a lab. It therefore remains most likely that the immediate ancestor to SARS-CoV-2 exists in the wild and is still to be found.”
Prof Lawrence Young, Virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, said:
“Knowing the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is essential in understanding where and how this virus emerged and what we need to do to prevent future pandemics. Much evidence points to the virus evolving in a bat (the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence is 96% identical to a coronavirus found in horseshoe bats) and then accidentally spilling over into humans rather than originating from a laboratory. But there are contrary theories including the suggestion that a bat virus could have been grown in the laboratory in human cells resulting in the unintentional emergence of a virus that was able to more efficiently infect and grow in human cells. While the original WHO investigation assessed the likelihood of the virus originating from a ‘laboratory incident’ as extremely unlikely, others have raised concerns about the possibility that three researchers at the research laboratories in Wuhan, where coronaviruses were being studied, become ill in November 2019 and required hospital treatment. WHO are preparing for a second phase of studies into the origin of the COVID-19 virus but this will require full openness and cooperation from the Chinese government. The only way to stop future pandemics driven by viruses that spill over into humans from animals is to fully understand the conditions by which such spread could have happened and do everything to prevent it happening again.”
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