Who is The Seeker? Internet sleuth helped find evidence for Wuhan lab Covid leak theory

A group of 24 people that calls itself DRASTIC, which includes The Seeker, reportedly began probing clues from Chinese scientific databases shortly after the pandemic broke out


                            Who is The Seeker? Internet sleuth helped find evidence for Wuhan lab Covid leak theory
A technician works in a lab at Sinovac Biotech where the company is producing their potential COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac during a media tour on September 24, 2020, in Beijing, China (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

A motley group of internet sleuths with science backgrounds have reportedly been leading efforts to uncover the truth about the origins of COVID-19, particularly whether the pathogen had escaped a lab in Wuhan. One of these social media detectives has been identified as an Indian researcher who goes by the nom de guerre The Seeker on Twitter.

According to Newsweek, a group of 24 people that calls itself DRASTIC, short for Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19, reportedly began probing clues from Chinese scientific databases shortly after the pandemic broke out. The group reportedly uncovered scientific papers that detailed how researchers at the controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and other Chinese facilities were investigating coronaviruses recovered from an abandoned mine. These studies may have been meant to find a vaccine, while some other instances saw authorities try to conceal data.

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Who is The Seeker?

The young Indian man who is a member of DRASTIC and calls himself The Seeker on Twitter is reportedly in his late-20s and lives in the Indian city of Bhubhaneshwar in the state of Odisha. As reported by Newsweek, he uses a piece of tribal art from his hometown for his Twitter logo and his career has been a "khichdi" of architecture, painting, and filmmaking. He explained to the outlet that "khichdi" was an indigenous "stew of disparate ingredients that adds up to something surprising and delightful."

The Seeker became an expert at searching the unchartered territories of the web, which normally don't show up after a simple Google search. According to Newsweek, the social media detective often posted on Reddit and had accumulated a whopping 750,000 karma points. However, he maintained his anonymity.

“It starts with an outbreak of severe unexplained pneumonia cases in 2012, which saw six miners hospitalized. Three of them died, and the cause for their illness was suspected to be due to 'SARS-like CoV'. The symptoms were almost indistinguishable from COVID-19,” The Seeker wrote on Twitter as he was identified as among the DRASTIC members who pieced together the most critical of the clues.

According to tweets by DRASTIC members, including The Seeker, the reported illness of miners in 2012 may have been the first time a predecessor or a close cousin of the Sars-Cov-2 virus may have infected humans. “WIV went on a years-long investigation into the same mine, on the lookout for what afflicted the miners,” The Seeker tweeted on April 8.



 

Based on the clues obtained by the group, they suspected that WIV scientists were likely investigating the pathogen that caused the illness and death of the men who went into the abandoned mine, and that one of the pathogens they isolated and worked on may have escaped the lab at a later date. It's worth noting that isolating and growing viruses for research requires the highest levels of biosafety standards.

Shi Zhengli, one of the top scientists in WIV, said in public that the miners' death and illness were a result of a fungal infection. However, DRASTIC reportedly unearthed evidence that it may have been a SARS-like coronavirus.

According to Newsweek, the illness of the miners became more interesting when the group found a 2013 master's thesis by a medical student describing symptoms that are now synonymous with COVID-19. The illness was described in the paper as suspected to have been caused by a SARS-like coronavirus. DRASTIC used a technique called OSINT, or open-source investigation, to obtain the bulk of clues from previous scientific papers and news reports. Chinese authorities have since reportedly restricted access to the CNKI database, where the group uncovered some of the crucial trails.



 

That said, health officials and scientists across the globe are growing increasingly convinced that China has not been sufficiently transparent about the outbreak. Many are demanding detailed information about the projects undertaken by WIV, the origins of another coronavirus called RATG13 (which Chinese officials said was found in bats in a cave hundreds of miles from Wuhan), as well as the nature of the illness sustained by three WIV researchers who were hospitalized shortly before the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 came to light.

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