Senior researchers, who were all involved in gain of function virus research and hence unreliable due to conflict of interest, successfully suppressed any further consideration of a lab leak. World opinion was taken in by their reputation and failed to check their explanations or their past activities.
Bengaluru: As early as January 2020, many different groups of researchers studied the 2019 novel coronavirus. Collation of some of their reported findings is very suggestive of the virus having originated in a laboratory. Two of these, one from a group of Wuhan doctors and another from a group of New Delhi researchers are of greatest significance and provide the smoking gun.
A group of 29 Chinese doctors, 7 from Jin Yin-tan Hospital, Wuhan and the rest from various other Chinese hospitals published their findings online in Lancet on 24 January 2020. They prospectively collected and analysed data on 41 patients admitted by 1 January 2020. 2019-nCoV infection was confirmed by real-time RT-PCR test. Researchers also directly communicated with patients or their families to ascertain if they had visited the Huanan seafood market. In this crowded market live wild animals are kept together and sold. The conditions are ideal for exotic viruses to cross over from one wild animal to another and to humans. The other suspected source of infection in Wuhan is the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), where researchers have a large collection of wild coronaviruses and have been genetically manipulating them since many years. The first three patients admitted to hospital in Wuhan on 1 December and 10 Decem ber 2019, had not visited the market, as depicted by these doctors in the bar chart reproduced with this article (image 1). This matches the intelligence report that three WIV staff got infected in (late) November. Of the patients admitted later, 27 had visited the market.
On 22 April 2021, 12 researchers from Italy and the United States, in an article in Journal of Translational Medicine analysed 220 genomic sequences from infected patients from 24 nations worldwide. Only 8 mutations were observed over a period of 4 months from December 2019 to mid-March 2020. Mutations in genomic sequence are largely due to errors introduced by the RNA replicating enzyme, namely RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RDPR). However, the RDRP enzyme in SARs-CoV2 virus has a unique proof-reading ability, unlike many other RNA viruses and is therefore less likely to make errors during replication. In contrast to this, four researchers, 3 from China and 1 from the US had published on 3 January 2020 that 6 different genotypes of the virus were isolated from as few as 27 people, all of whom had visited Wuhan. It is hard to believe that in the presence of a stable RDPR with unique proof-reading ability, such rapid mutations occurred within 2 months, that too in such a small sample. Instead, it is likely that multiple lab-generated strains leaked into the environment.
In a bioRxiv preprint titled, “Uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag” first posted online on 31 January 2020, a team of 9 researchers led by Prof. Bishwajit Kundu from Kusuma School of biological sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi reported that “We found 4 insertions in the spike glycoprotein which are unique to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and are not present in other human coronaviruses. Importantly, amino acid residues in all the 4 inserts have identity or similarity to those in the AIDs virus. The fourth insert appears to be similar to a Furin cleavage site which enhances binding to the host receptor. These four unique inserts are unlikely to be fortuitous in nature. Taken together, these findings suggest unconventional evolution. This work provides yet unknown insights on 2019-nCoV.”
The above findings and this 3D reconstructed image showing the AIDs inserts with coloured beads is reproduced in this article with the consent of each member of the IIT team (image 3).
It is highly improbable that these inserts got incorporated spontaneously as there is no proof yet as to how genetic material from a retrovirus like HIV could transfer to an RNA virus like coronavirus in nature.
The grave importance of the fourth insert mentioned by them, the code (amino acid sequence PRRA) for the human specific Furin cleavage site, needs further explanation. The spike protein of the virus is what helps locate the host cell and enter it. It has 2 parts: S1 and S2. S1 latches on to the cell after which the S1-S2 junction needs to be cleaved to enable S2 to proceed with fusing the viral envelope with the host cell’s outer cover (cell membrane) permitting the virus genome to be injected into the cell under attack. Certain inactive proteins in humans need sections to be removed in order to become active. Furin is an enzyme on the human cell surface that cleaves these sections and activates the proteins. All other SARS types of coronaviruses depend on enzymes on the human cell surface to cleave the spike and this often happens at less than an ideal site. Even the coronavirus most similar to the SARS2 virus, the RaTG13, does not have the 12-nucleotide sequence for the Furin cleavage site. Unlike them, this SARS2 virus has a unique Furin cleavage site at the ideal location of the spike for the human Furin enzyme to divide it, dramatically improving the virus’ ability to infect humans. This sudden, long, human specific insert points at a lab origin of the virus. David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of CalTech said “When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus.”
Further, a group of 6 researchers from Hong Kong visited Wuhan and obtained the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from a patient and studied it. On 16 January 2020 they stated: “the external subdomain of Spike’s receptor binding domain of 2019-nCoV shares only 40% amino acid identity with other SARS-related coronaviruses.” They also found 2 completely novel proteins orf3b and orf8.
If any further proof is required, it is available in a recent letter to ACS Med. Chem. Lett., by Ariel Fernández, titled “Molecular Biology Clues Portray SARS-CoV-2 as a Gain-of-Function Laboratory Manipulation of Bat CoV RaTG13”. He says “Genomic analyses show that SARS-CoV-2 is a chimera, with most of its sequence identical to that of the bat CoV RaTG13, except for the receptor binding domain (RBD), which is almost identical to that of a pangolin (Manis javanica) CoV and has been optimized to bind the ACE2 receptor in human cells.” An image from his letter is reproduced with this article (image 3).
On 1 February 2021, within hours of the researchers from IIT New Delhi submitting their findings online on bioRxiv, alarm bells rang around the world. Dr Kristian G. Anderson of Scripps Research Institute emailed Dr Fauci that “Some of the features look engineered, inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” Following this a concerted suppression of findings, including of the New Delhi group was done by vested interests. On 19 February 2020, a group of 27 senior virologists from the US, Australia, Germany, Spain, UK, Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia, Hong Kong including Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, which was funding WIV, published in Lancet a “Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China combatting Covid-19”. In a correspondence published on 17 March 2020 in Nature titled “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2”, Kristian G. Andersen, who on 1 February had emailed Dr Fauci, now turned contrarian and with 4 other researchers argued that “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus”. On 26 March 2020, Dr Francis Collins supported Dr Andersen’s analysis on NIV directors’ blog: “next time you come across something about COVID-19 online that disturbs or puzzles you, I suggest going to FEMA’s new Coronavirus Rumor Control web site. It will help to distinguish rumors from facts.”
These letters and statements issued by senior researchers, who were all involved in gain of function virus research and hence unreliable due to conflict of interest, successfully suppressed any further consideration of a lab leak. World opinion was taken in by their reputation and failed to check their explanations or their past activities. This was in addition to the Chinese silencing of all whistle blowers including Dr Li Wenliang and “The Whistle-Giver” Dr Ai Fen, sealing of records at WIV and an extensive cover up of evidence and muffling of concerned personnel. On 7 February 2020 in an open letter, to the National People’s Congress and the NPC Standing Committee, 9 Wuhan professors demanded “The Right to Freedom of Speech Starts Today” and said: “Where there is no free speech, there is no safety”. The English version is available on chinachange.org. Next day screen shots of the letter in Chinese were posted in a tweet @sebastianveghk. The combined effort of Chinese authorities and collaborators in the US and elsewhere of WIV and its gain of function research succeeded in deploying a dense smokescreen to hide the smoking gun.
Meanwhile, the WHO acted as a mouthpiece for China. Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, he believed the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19 originated in a lab in China. CNN aired on 27 March 2021 an “autopsy” of the pandemic, in which Redfield dismissed the possibility that the virus could have evolved sufficiently on its own to have “somehow jumped” quickly from bats to humans. “I just don’t think this makes biological sense, it’s easier to conclude that the virus gained greater efficiency at infecting humans inside a lab”. He was mauled on social media by researchers and others and even got death threats.
On 3 May 2021, Nicholas Wade, a science writer for Nature, Science and NYT opened the flood gates with an 11,134-word, 44-minute read, extensive exposition, in which he acknowledged the contributions of many before him, especially of Yuri Deigin. It is only now that the smoke screen is clearing and the mystery is unravelling. Creating a deadly virus in the lab and letting it leak due to carelessness and then letting it spread worldwide and doing a cover-up instead of disclosure and containment have genocidal consequences for the entire world. International funding and top viral hierarchy are under investigation. Charges of negligence may now escalate to criminal liability. The whole world is in turmoil. A major international shakeup of “Dual Use” research, its funding and regulation is long overdue. “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
Dr P.S. Venkatesh Rao is Consultant Endocrine, Breast & Laparoscopic Surgeon; National Delegate (India) to International Society of Surgery (ISS-SIC); President 2014-15, Indian Association of Endocrine Surgeons; Former Professor of Endocrine Surgery; Former Faculty CMC (Vellore), AIIMS (New Delhi), UCMS (Delhi), MSRMC (Bengaluru).