Some people have been pushing the idea that COVID-19 was artificially created in a Chinese lab. There’s no real evidence for that — the virus itself doesn’t contain any labels of its origin, that a research lab in China was studying the virus isn’t evidence of manipulation (a research lab researching is what research labs do), and the people promoting the ‘lab leak’ theory all seem to have a political agenda to blame someone. I sure haven’t been convinced. Now there’s a new revelation: they’ve found genetic evidence from samples collected at the Huanan wet market that infected wild animals were there.
Way back in 2019, researchers were swabbing locations in the market and filing away samples for later analysis. Guess what? It’s later. Swabs sampled from a stall that was selling raccoon dogs have been sequenced, and they’ve found … raccoon dog DNA, which is no surprise. But they also found lots of SARS-CoV-2 mingled with it, which tells us that these wild animals were already infected with COVID.
A new analysis of genetic sequences collected from the market shows that raccoon dogs being illegally sold at the venue could have been carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019. It’s some of the strongest support yet, experts told me, that the pandemic began when SARS-CoV-2 hopped from animals into humans, rather than in an accident among scientists experimenting with viruses.
“This really strengthens the case for a natural origin,” says Seema Lakdawala, a virologist at Emory who wasn’t involved in the research. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist involved in the research, told me, “This is a really strong indication that animals at the market were infected. There’s really no other explanation that makes any sense.”
I’ve never been that interested in the question of its origin. I already know that we live on a planet of viruses, with an unimaginably huge population of diverse viruses squirting their DNA and RNA into every available creature, genetic material that is constantly mutating at a rapid rate, and what we ought to be amazed at is that we have molecular mechanisms of resistance, an immune system, that can cope with it at all. It was inevitable that something would evolve to get past our defenses, and that we’d have to adapt or die. That’s what we’ve been doing for the entirety of the existence of life on Earth.
That life changes and that there are naturally inimical forces that exist is an uncomfortable truth for many people. They’d rather think that a threat is by intent, that it had to be designed, and that the solution is to march out and do battle with a hostile, and purposeful, enemy (in this case, all of China. Good luck with that, I’d rather deal with it by improving public hygiene and developing new medicines.)
Now, can we stop wasting time looking for someone to blame, and refocus on dealing rationally with the pandemic? Unfortunately, there are many people who think the way to deal with a threat is to ignore it and pretend it has gone away. It hasn’t. The viruses keep on changing, thriving on the neglect that gives them an opportunity to proliferate in all these hosts who have given up, and it’s only going to get worse.
Yeah, no. Can’t be. That virus came from a lab as I have been told by that very well known US research institute, the FBI! /s
Matt G says
The next zoonotic spillover will be here soon, and our response will be even worse. Thanks, “freedom” fighters!
Bronze Dog says
So, this was all a mischievous Tanuki prank gone out of control? That makes so much sense!
Yeah, once the bioweapon theory was debunked, the origin story no longer mattered.
What’s interesting is that the current proponents of the lab leak theory, which the TV networks seemed to breathlessly report, are the DoJ and DoD, not organizations that I would look to for advice about public health.
The reason I think the virus was natural is that the billions of mutations happening and being tested for fitness every day, is probably “better” than humans trying a few tweeks here and there.
The reason I think the virus was natural is that the billions of mutations happening and being tested for fitness every day, is probably “better” than humans trying a few tweeks here and there.
I am more interested in the source of the virus, from a public health perspective.
Such as, we’re seeing increases of zoonotic infectious disease from one region, sourced by wildlife from that region and import of animals exposed to said wildlife. A quarantine period being introduced could break the chain of infection and prevent spread.
BTW, it could still be a leak from a leaky roof eave that allowed the wild bats to nest in the lab building’s roof, so still a lab leak. It’s as credible as any bullshit theory out there.
Especially given the leading conspiracy theories that it’s a GM virus, which was apparently made by magic, as there are none of the typical indicators present in any other GMO, essentially “toolmarks” that come from the manipulation methods themselves.
The reality remains, it’s a bioweapon – straight out of the nastiest bioweapons lab in the universe – Mother Nature’s Bioweapons Lab, you know, nature itself.
It has a singular purpose that it’s quite effective at, reproduction.
You know, not any more of a weapon than a field mouse or cockroach. Only, far more efficient in reproducing than either.
The bear of it is, the virus itself is fairly harmless to humans, it’s the immune system’s delayed response of “scorched earth” that causes all of the havoc. Otherwise it’d be what coronavirus usually is in humans – a common cold.
We’ve traced what happens when infection occurs, this is actually replication news, as full sequencing and analysis of the wet market samples is literally as old as the pandemic. It’s also one area in science where we’ve been flagging – replication. Rather than the current trend of science by press release and only in rare cases are experiments replicated.
Which makes this excellent news!
In my town, we have local experts (farmers, welders, car salesmen, hardware store managers) who have supported the “lab leak” hypothesis. But none can explain the vector of the leak. Was it a window of the lab left open? An infected worker who left the building? An infected animal that escaped? Did a vial fall off a counter and roll out the door like that meatball on the spaghetti? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSbSjRJ9xz4&t=28s
Owosso Harpist says
Leave it to that Stupid Idiot who once desecrated the White House to spread lies about the virus and not follow any advice and direction on how to prevent the virus from spreading all over. And now over a million people are dead as the result of Trump’s cruel, horrid selfishness. Thank goodness he’s out of Office for good and on the verge of being indicted anytime now.
This time I will only say this: the fact that conspiracy theorists and Q christofascists believe in the lab leak theory, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Leak btw., as in accidental leak, not secret plot by the Chinese government to infect its own and the rest of the world’s population.
That’s very interesting and useful work, I look forward to seeing a peer-reviewed publication, but it doesn’t appear to tell us how the raccoon dogs got infected. Mink and coronavirus: what’s happened and should we be worried? Sars-CoV-2 has jumped from humans, mutated and crossed back to cause new infections. Now if it can be determined where the raccoon dogs came from, and the virus or a very close relative can be found there, that would be pretty conclusive. But this would require a degree of openness and cooperation from the Chinese authorities they have not shown thus far (see below).
I can’t access the Atlantic article without starting a “Free trial”, but here’s an interesting extract from Forbes:
Marcus Ranum says
This episode of TWIV reviews Michael Worobey’s epidemiological study of the outbreak in Wuhan, which unsurprisingly is centered around the wet markets, not the Wuhan virology lab. Worobey’s article itself is here: Science. In a semi-rational world, that would have settled the discussion.
What the hell is a raccoon dog?
Is it a hybrid, like a liger? Or just a name, like whale shark? Or horse fly? Or barn dance?
I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, science cannot explain.
Ancient jokes aside, I think anybody trying to pass off a theory regarding the origin of the virus should have to explain, in their own words, what a virus is. Then, if the answer doesn’t break your brain, you can move on to ask what sort of evidence their belief is based on.
I’m also wondering how many conspiracy nutbags even believe in DNA.
I disagree, on both scientific and public health grounds. Discovering the origin of SARS-CoV-2 would likely provide information on the evolution and biogeography of viruses, a topic I would expect to be of central interest to any biologist. And although I would say without knowing its origin we do know that the wildlife trade should be suppressed, for multiple reasons including public health, and that biolab safety standards need to be agreed and enforced on an international basis, without knowing the origin of SARS-CoV-2, we simply can’t know what the knowledge might tell us about how to minimise the chances of a recurrence – or worse.
The raccoon dog is a canid, most closely related to foxes rather than dogs. Its name comes from the raccoon-like facial markings.
I’ve read Worobey’s papers. They provide excellent evidence the wet market was key to SARS-CoV-2’s spread, which hardly anyone doubted, but still, very worthwhile work. They don’t show how the virus got there.
Does anybody remember yellow rain? In 1981 the CIA and the State Department uncovered a plot by the USSR to supply biological toxins to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It turned out to be seasonal mists of bee pollen. When I hear the CIA talking about labs in Wuhan I think of yellow rain.
I misspoke. It was the FBI, who are supposed to be concerned with matters within the U.S.
Raging Bee says
The Chinese government has expressed vehement opposition to the lab leak theory, and has even accused the U.S. of politicizing efforts to trace the pandemic’s origin.
On this at least, the evil godless commies are right. All this newly-undead lab-leak freakout is nothing but Retrumplitarians desperately trying to distract attention away from their own colossal callousness and mismanagement of the COVID pandemic, literally from day one.
“The Chinese government has expressed vehement opposition to the lab leak theory”
Yeah but so have American virologists, who know very well that if the lab leak happened, that would be a very quick way to lose their funding.
Just as Mao engineered proto-wokeness of the Cultural Revolution with its struggle sessions which the cultural marxist postmodern critical theorists have unfurled upon our woke college campuses, the ChiComs engineered this woke virus to destroy freedoms cherished by God fearing Christian Americans. They are invading our schools, our beaches, and our precious body fluids with their woke agendas. They just destroyed a bank with their woke policies. Cultural marxists and the ChiComs are joined at the hip. This goes all the way back to the infiltrators of the State Department who Lost China so they could engineer a woke virus.
SC (Salty Current) says
I linked to this Decoding the Gurus episode a few days ago on the Infinite Thread – “Interview with Worobey, Andersen & Holmes: The Lab Leak”:
I found it very helpful. (Since some people insist on being peckish about it, I’ll point out that they discuss several variants of the lab leak contention and other issues raised in this thread.)
Or, it was a deliberate attack on China by some foreign government with considerable tech, no morals, and very little brains.
Pierce R. Butler says
X-post from Casa Singham:
This fits pretty closely with the new report, in that it doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine fur farm culls somehow getting transferred to a “wet market”.
Looking back to each continent’s origins of the pandemic, we find in each, a comedy of errors that resulted in untold tragedy.
Starting in the PRC and spreading uncontrolled, largely due to fear of “shoot the messenger” mentality confounding reporting up the health authority’s chain and escalating via confusion as the virus spread throughout Europe, to finally break out of Europe and into North America, where it spread unchecked, as the US leadership chose the viewpoint that a national pandemic was only a plot to make Dear Leader look bad.
The virus, being a virus and unthinking, really didn’t give a shit and did what any virus does when it has the opportunity, reproduced in an ever expanding variety of hosts, adapting as it moved along.
At any point, regional, national or international, proper reporting and action would’ve halted or slowed to manageable levels the transmission of the virus and not resulted in a global pandemic.
But, response was hampered in the PRC by under-reporting, resulting in a non-timely response, to under-response, resulting in global scope of a humanitarian disaster.
It was decidedly unhelpful that the US maladministration chose to take a good, well studied and practiced plan for a global influenza pandemic, which trivially could’ve been adapted to this pandemic and literally threw it into the trash can mere minutes after being presented with the binder with the plan.
The laugh is, the virus isn’t exceptionally effective or efficient at reproducing, a substantial percentage of progeny don’t survive, largely due to a high mutation rate, due to inaccurate transcription of the viral genome. Basically, most mutations hamper or eliminate the ability to reproduce, producing essentially particles that at most can only infect one cell and not reproduce viable offspring or are incapable of entering another cell and basically are then essentially sterile. It’s all because it’s a numbers game that the virus can make any headway, producing millions of offspring with a per cell generation time of around 10 hours that allows the damnable thing to become a pathogen, rather than a cellular annoyance.
See question 7 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7224694/
Cellular annoyance basically being, able to enter a cell, even exit a lysosome, but then incapable of creating infectious viral particles and hence, non-pathogenic. Think Ebola Reston for an example. Infected the animals of the facility, even infected but was incapable of causing significant disease in any humans that were exposed and at most resulted in a few used sick days and a culling of animals at the facility.
The bigger tragedy is, surveillance was deficient at the Wuhan lab sample acquisition processes level. They were literally seeking such a strain of coronavirus and it literally was near their doorstep, but got missed. Uglier, workers became ill, without it being noticed that they were ill with one of the strains that they were seeking!
Literally, a case of looking beyond the next hill and not noticing that someone’s climbing the fence. One needs to sample near and far and widely!
The number of lessons here is immense, indeed, encyclopedic in volume. From surveillance through action upon finally noticing spread of a pathogen. That’s at every level, from local through international.
For, when we could’ve had a shining moment in public health – an averted global pandemic, we got a different result, largely due to complacency.
A global pooch screw.
Alas, one that misleaders are happily continuing to expand upon, just so that they can acquire more power.
I must have been channeling the governor in @21:
“The governor claimed Black Lives Matters protests in the summer of 2020 over the death of George Floyd at hands of Minnesota police officer were supported at a time mass gatherings were not. Not even, DeSantis said, to protest lockdowns.
“This was presumably a woke virus,” he said to applause. “This took the mask off these people. Clearly, it’s absurd you would take that position from a scientific perspective. It was really showing it was more more about advancing an agenda and exerting control.””
Meanwhile Coyne wonders if he should still be milking the word “woke” for all it’s worth in the perpetual culture war that WEIT has devolved into…if it works for Desantis why not?
Oh, you’re just not conspiratorial enough. They were studying those raccoon dogs in their labs, and some of the animals leaked out into the food marked. /s
It’s just that most of us are not virus experts.
So it seems very suspicious when a US-funded biological weapons lab in China happens to be nearby. And the massive wealth transfer during the lockdowns also seems strangely convenient. We can all understand reasons that disproportionally more Americans died and that pisses us off, too, but we’re used to decreasing health and life expectancy – this is America.
Leftists reflexively question authority. I’m sorry if that offends liberals, but it’s really hard not to.
ahcuah, not good enough. Conspiratorial enough would be the NIH gave the PRC the raccoon dogs, preinfected, to ensure US soldiers competing in the PRC returned home infected, to advance the shared US NIH and PRC commie agenda of X agenda (X, of course being a variable filled in by the conspiracy theorist).
I’ve saw similar enough in the past, to include the agenda belonging to space aliens. :/
You disagree over what intrests PZ? ;-)
Two species of racooon dog : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nyctereutes
Ed Peters says
Most people question authority. Those who don’t are authoritarians.
I wish people would go further and dismiss authority without expertise.
@ ^ Ed Peters : Those that question any and all authority to the extreme of selfishness and rejection of expertise are libertarians.
There’s probly a reasonable balance somewhere in the middle with respecting – but not unquestioningly – legitimate authorities.
@ feralboy12 : In addition to what #16 KG wrote & the wikipage for the genus linked in my #30 there’s a good youtube clip and discussion of them by Animalogic here which is 8 & a half minutes long.
Given the mainland location the exact species here is probly the Common / Asian / Chinese Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), known in Japan as Tanuki although this name applies also to the Japanese Badger (Meles anakuma) which is also confusingly known as the Mujina and Anaguma. (See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_raccoon_dog & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_badger)
@ 28. drew : “It’s just that most of us are not virus experts.”
Yes. So, what do you do when you’re NOT an expert in something? You listen to the people who are experts and do really know what they are talking about. What are they saying? Let’s see (Google search) :
Source : https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2023/02/28/1160162845/what-does-the-science-say-about-the-origin-of-the-sars-cov-2-pandemic
NB. Quoted patragraph bits initalics contains hyperlinks to sources there.
You might also recall PZ Myers has written about this before and this has then obvs been discussed in the comments of previous posts that you can find scrolling down here :
Not so co-incidentally, its now about the anniversary of the catastrophic American invasion and occupation of Iraq based on false and biased intelligence released and promoted by people with a pro-war agenda. See among other places :
Musing upon which might suggest, to those who question authority, that the FBI’s “low confidence” in their pushing the lab leak conspiracy theory is more than justified and its potentially politically motivated claims that the lab leak is the real origin story for SARS CoV2 despite what the experts say are simply bulldust.
The laugh is, the DOE was asked to have the National Laboratories review the virus and its origin. Oddly though, the NIH was never asked to review thermonuclear weapon design.
Why is one agency crossing domains of expertise, but the other isn’t permitted to?
Of equal worth, when does the Forestry Service begin opening brain surgery and dental care centers?
And when can the RNC headquarters receive their FBI designed missile shield?
“Yeah but so have American virologists, who know very well that if the lab leak happened, that would be a very quick way to lose their funding.”
Come on, rorschach, you’re better than this wild, ungrounded conspiracy theorising. Why would US virologists lose funding if there was a leak from a lab in another country? This is just a rewrapped version of a common climate-change denialist argument.
It’s not like there haven’t been confirmed lab leaks in history (see Wikipedia’s list of the one we know about — which includes an actual COVID19 leak!, from a Taiwanese lab). Not one of these resulted in funding cuts to the entire field of virology around the world.
The DOE got involved in health science as a result of its relevance to the nuclear industry. But as you say, this is of zero relevance to virology. And it wasn’t even asked to investigate, really. It was literally Biden asking the heads of several intelligence agencies what they thought off the top of their heads. No surprise that the only two agencies that said a lab leak was likely (i) had zero expertise in virology and (ii) had a vested interest in stirring up conflict on the subject.
Rich Woods says
Don’t go giving ChatGPT ideas!
chrislawson, yeah, decidedly odd request, as nuclear health physics would be within their area of expertise. Sounds like a default politician’s “ask all of the scientists” deal and some were stupid enough to give a guess, rather than say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. But yeah, conflict of interest is a definite.
Thanks for the Wiki article, I missed the polio debacle of last year somehow. Worrisome to all concerned there that the source was never ascertained!
The 1978 UK smallpox mess does have some excellent reports on the mess. Provided an excellent case for building dedicated facilities, rather than modifying old buildings to try to reach BSL-4.
Maybe some day we’ll invent fully needle proof gloves too…
Now, one bioweapons lab keeps me up at night – the Amazon. Heaven only knows what’s hiding in that immense mess waiting for a logging crew or illegal ranch to let loose. Mother Nature is the premier bioterrorist!
Actually, I do blame people, namely the ones responsible for managing the pandemic but refusing to deal with it rationally. Many governments were so hesitant to take the necessary measures that millions died needlessly. By doing so, they also wrecked the economy, the mental health of many, and the togetherness in societies. Fuck them.
“It’s not like there haven’t been confirmed lab leaks in history”
Chris, that is exactly my point. There have been. And there will be. Even what Nick theorised above is possible or even plausible, a worker inadvertently carries the virus outside the lab, the market is just next door, it jumps to some animal, and then eventually back to humans.
The Wuhan lab moved house in October, that is a fact, the first cases were reported in December, although we know now there were cases earlier. The positive serologies reported from overseas in October and November may be due to military personnel taking part in the Wuhan military Olympics who brought it back with them. We will probably never know now. But give it time, the Russians took 15 years to admit the leak of the 1976 pandemic flu virus from their vaccine lab. And that was Jeltsin having had a vodka too many who misspoke at a press conference.