On Friday April 17, 2020, during President Trump’s daily press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, a reporter asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a question about the origin of CoVid-19.
Q: “Could you address the suggestions or concerns that this virus was somehow man-made, possibly came out of a laboratory in China?”
Fauci: “A group of highly-qualified evolutionary virologists looked at the sequences in bats as they evolve. The mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.”
Dr. Fauci’s statement, now circulating in the mainstream media as definitive proof that CoVid-19 is a naturally-occurring coronavirus, is far from a complete recitation of the evidence.
The debate as to the true origin of CoVid-19 should not be prematurely shut down.
Fauci likely referred to a scientific article, which he could not name and may not have read, entitled “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2.”
It is the article most widely cited by some scientists and most of the mainstream media and has been used to support the Chinese government’s contention that CoVid-19 is a naturally-occurring coronavirus that had undergone a normal mutation process and had “jumped” from animals to man via the Wuhan Seafood Market.
It is important to note that one of the authors of the much-cited article, Edward C. Holmes, is a long-time collaborator with Chinese scientists and, since the start of 2020, he has co-authored with Chinese scientists numerous scientific articles, which, in one way or another, could be construed as supporting the position of the Chinese government.
There are only three possible origins for the CoVid-19 pandemic: (a) it is naturally-occurring as the Chinese government claims; (b) a yet unknown and undescribed coronavirus isolate of natural origin, now named CoVid-19, leaked from a Wuhan laboratory or (c) CoVid-19 was man-made and leaked from the laboratory.
The main conclusion of the article cited by Fauci states, “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 [CoVid-19] is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”
That conclusion is based upon a comparative structural analysis, primarily of the amino acid sequences of some, but not all close “relatives” of CoVid-19, including coronaviruses from bats, scaly anteaters and the human SARS-CoV responsible for the 2002-2003 pandemic.
The sample did not include another close relative, the bat coronavirus BtCoV/4991, one of many that could also have been compared, but was not.
More importantly, the authors do not explain the origin of CoVid-19’s furin polybasic cleavage site, which is not present in any of the close coronavirus relatives they identify.
The authors add the prediction, “it is likely that SARS-CoV-2-like [CoVid-19-like] viruses with partial or full polybasic cleavage sites will be discovered in other species.”
Remarkably, within one week of the publication of “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” one of its authors, Edward C. Holmes, published a non-peer-reviewed article together with Chinese scientists suggesting the presence of just such a bat coronavirus (strain RmYN02) with a presumed furin polybasic cleavage site.
Unfortunately, RmYN02 bears little actual similarity to CoVid-19. Its furin polybasic cleavage site has a Proline-Alanine-Alanine sequence, which is neutral, not basic compared to CoVid-19’s polybasic Proline-Arginine-Arginine-Alanine-Arginine sequence.
In addition, RmYN02 has only a 61.3% sequence similarity with CoVid-19 in the critical receptor binding domain.
The article Dr. Fauci cited provides suggestive evidence, but just because CoVid-19 could have evolved from the close coronavirus relatives the authors identify, doesn’t mean it did. Those relatives had their own unique evolutionary pathways.
A natural origin of CoVid-19 is still a possibility, but it is far from proven as Dr. Fauci’s brief statement seemed to indicate, especially a conclusion based on only a single incomplete publication.
Neither Dr. Fauci nor the article he cited exclude the possibility that CoVid-19 leaked from a Wuhan laboratory, even as a naturally-occurring virus.
Just such a leak out of a Chinese laboratory occurred in two separate incidents in April 2004 involving researchers infected with the deadly coronavirus SARS-CoV, responsible for the 2002-2003 pandemic.
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.
The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.