According to the Wall Street Journal, China has now backed away from its claim that the COVID-19 outbreak originated in the Wuhan Seafood Market through transmission from animals to humans.
Since the onset of the pandemic, China has flooded the scientific literature with that claim, but now has been forced to admit that it is false.
The search for the truth has been hampered by the global media, which have been eagerly and uncritically regurgitating the Chinese Communist Party’s narrative that COVID-19 is naturally-occurring.
That is, while circulating in animals, a bat coronavirus mutated, perhaps through another intermediate animal host, acquiring the ability to infect humans, presumably workers in the market.
That argument was never scientifically viable.
The environmental samples taken from the Wuhan Seafood Market were genetically identical to human COVID-19, largely ruling out an intermediate host animal.
More importantly, the same study found that, in a side-by-side comparison of the evolutionary dynamics between COVID-19 and the coronavirus that caused the 2003 SARS-CoV pandemic, the early COVID-19 samples were already pre-adapted for human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV.
That is, there was no evidence of a naturally-occurring transmission from animals to humans via the Wuhan Seafood Market and no naturally-occurring human adaptation during the course of the outbreak.
COVID-19 was already well-adapted for human infection. That notion is scientifically supported by a structural analysis of COVID-19.
China claims COVID-19 originated in bats, which is probably partially correct.
The viral “backbone” of COVID-19 is likely from bats, but there is conclusive scientific evidence that COVID-19’s receptor binding domain within the spike protein is structurally closest to that of pangolins (scaly anteaters) and that its presence in COVID-19 could not have resulted from a natural recombinant event or convergent evolution.
A pangolin-like receptor binding domain within a spike protein was probably inserted using the same bioengineering techniques used in a study published by Ralph Baric from the University of North Carolina and Zheng-Li Shi, the “bat woman” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
That study described the insertion of the spike protein from a newly isolated bat coronavirus (SHC014) onto the “backbone” from SARS-CoV, the coronavirus responsible for the 2003 pandemic.
In a December 9, 2019 interview, Dr. Peter Daszak, President of the EcoHealth Alliance and a long-time collaborator with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, presumably referring to the Ralph Baric- Zheng-Li Shi experiments, stated, “you can manipulate them in the lab pretty easily” inserting a spike protein “into a backbone of another virus.”
Furthermore, there is no credible scientific evidence that COVID-19’s furin polybasic cleavage site (RRAR) at the S1/S2 junction in the spike protein, a distinctive feature widely known for its ability to enhance pathogenicity and transmissibility and not present in any closely related bat coronavirus, could have evolved naturally.
In contrast, the methods for artificially inserting such cleavage sites are well-established.
In 2017, Chinese scientists Xing-Yi Ge and “bat woman” Zheng-Li Shi of the Wuhan Institute of Virology found the same furin polybasic cleavage site (RRAR) at the S1/S2 junction in a rat coronavirus.
It was Xing-Yi Ge, in 2020, who identified the furin polybasic cleavage site (RRAR) at the S1/S2 junction in COVID-19.
It was Zheng-Li Shi, who, in February 2020, first reported on the previously unknown bat coronavirus, RaTG13, which has an overall 96.2% structurally similarity to COVID-19, but the receptor-binding domain was significantly different from COVID-19 and RaTG13 did not have a furin polybasic cleavage site.
It seems likely that bat coronavirus RaTG13 or something similar was used as a “backbone” to which a pangolin-like receptor binding domain within a spike protein was inserted, followed by the addition of a furin polybasic cleavage site.
Further human adaptation could have been achieved by sequential passage through “humanized” animal models described by Peter Daszak, used in the above-mentioned experiments by Ralph Baric and Zheng-Li Shi and published by Chinese scientists.
Given the overwhelming scientific evidence indicating that it is man-made, the burden of proof is now on China to prove COVID-19 is naturally-occurring.
This column was originally published at WION
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, who previously worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and conducted basic and clinical research in the pharmaceutical industry. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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