Dr Li-Meng Yan report: Covid-19 man-made in Wuhan lab theory refuses to die down, scientists slam conspiracy

Dr Li-Meng Yan report: Covid-19 man-made in Wuhan lab theory refuses to die down, scientists slam conspiracy
(Getty Images)

Scientists have said that SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, has a natural origin, but the conspiracy theory that it was created in a lab refuses to die down several months into the pandemic. Chinese virologist Dr Li-Meng Yan from Hong Kong, who has earlier questioned the origin of the coronavirus, has now published a study claiming that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin and was instead developed in a laboratory in China. 

In the study, which has not been peer-reviewed, Yan alleges that the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 “should be a laboratory product” created by using bat coronaviruses ZC45 and/or ZXC21 “as a template and/or backbone.” Among the ‘evidence’ presented in the study, the authors say that the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 is “suspiciously similar” to that of a bat coronavirus discovered by military laboratories in the Third Military Medical University (Chongqing, China) and the Research Institute for Medicine of Nanjing Command (Nanjing, China). 

The team, which includes three more researchers, argues that the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 has likely undergone genetic engineering, through which the virus has gained the ability to target humans with enhanced virulence and infectivity. 

“If it was a laboratory product, the most critical element in its creation, the backbone/template virus (ZC45/ZXC21), is owned by military research laboratories. Judging from the evidence that we and others have gathered, we believe that finding the origin of SARS-CoV-2 should involve an independent audit of the WIV (Wuhan Institute of Virology) P4 laboratories and the laboratories of their close collaborators. Such an investigation should have taken place long ago and should not be delayed any further,” write authors from the Rule of Law Society & Rule of Law Foundation, New York, in the report published on the website Zenodo. They add, “A follow-up report is now being prepared and will be submitted shortly.”
Yan, who allegedly had to flee to the US for her safety, said during an interview from a “secret location” earlier this month that the coronavirus was created in a government laboratory in Wuhan. She claimed the Wuhan seafood market and the other intermediate hosts of the virus were just a ‘smokescreen.’ “This virus is not made from nature. This is based on the China Military Institute that discovered and owned some bat coronavirus named CC45 and ZXC41. Based on that, after lab modification, it became a novel virus,” she said. During the interview, Yan also said that “scientific evidence” backing her claims will soon be published by her. 

The research team claims that the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 has likely undergone genetic engineering, through which the virus has gained the ability to target humans with enhanced virulence and infectivity. (Getty Images)


What’s the current evidence?

In a study published in March, scientists had concluded that Covid-19 is of natural evolution. The analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered. “By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes,” stated Dr Kristian Andersen, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and corresponding author on the paper which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine.

In April, the US intelligence community concluded that the coronavirus “was not manmade or genetically modified.” “As we do in all crises, the community’s experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to US national security. The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” said a statement back then. 


Scientists dismiss Chinese virologist’s claims

Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis in the University of Bath, said that the preprint study cannot be given any credibility in its current form. “The report is not based on an objective interpretation of the SARS-CoV-2 genome. The interpretations made are not supported by data, are unsubstantiated and the interpretations are largely stated but not explained. The report does not appear to start with an open hypothesis about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. The language of the report is reminiscent of a conspiracy theory. Given the unsubstantiated claims in the publication, which has not been peer-reviewed, the report cannot be viewed with any credibility as it stands,” he explains.

Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington and co-author of 'Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World', called the paper in a tweet “bizarre and unfounded.”




Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said that this particular conspiracy around a deliberate release from a laboratory has been doing the rounds throughout the pandemic. According to him, the theory has been rebutted several times already, and ultimately, it could be damaging to public health if reported uncritically without looking at the wider evidence.


“If people are exposed to and then believe conspiracy theories, this will likely have a negative impact on efforts to keep Covid-19 cases low and thus there will be more death and illness than there needs to be. The genomics of the virus and likely origins have been disentangled previously, for example, a Nature peer-reviewed paper, where they state “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” Other evidence also shows that this type of coronavirus has existed in bats for decades. This new manuscript is not peer-reviewed, and does not obviously offer any data that overrides previous research,” Dr Head emphasized. 


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