The head of a Wuhan laboratory – whose scientists who drew international rebuke for modifying bat coronavirus to infect humans – says the notion that a human-infecting bat coronavirus with a pangolin CoV binding mechanism escaped from said lab is “pure fabrication.”
In a Saturday interview with CCP state media, Wang Yanyi, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), said that the institute first received a clinical sample of SARS-CoV-2 on December 30, and claims “We didn’t have any knowledge before that, nor had we ever encountered, researched or kept the virus. In fact, like everyone else, we didn’t even know the virus existed.”
“How could it have leaked from our lab when we never had it?” she added.
Curiously, nobody from the state-owned China Global Television Network asked Wang if the WIV was ordered to destroy virus samples, as other laboratories in Wuhan were instructed to do in the early, critical stages of the outbreak.
Wang also claims that the institute ‘did not isolate or obtain the live virus of the RaTG-13 bat coronavirus which the Wall Street Journal claims WIV scientists collected in a cave 1,000 miles away in Yunnan, China in 2013, according to SCMP.
Of note, RaTG-13 shares 96.2% of its genome with SARS-CoV-2, while its method of binding to cells is nearly identical to a pangolin coronavirus.
The core residues in RBM which may related to higher human ACE2-binding affinity than SARS-CoV are 100% identical between SARS-CoV-2 and CoV-Pangolin-2020. Therefore, pangolin-CoV-2020 (CoV-pangolin/GD) potentially recognizes human ACE2 better than the SARS-CoV. –PLOS
The institute has been blamed by President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic which has officially killed over 340,000 people worldwide since December.
As we noted in February, Beijing has had four known accidental leaks of the SARS virus in recent years, so there is absolutely no reason to assume that this strain of coronavirus from Wuhan didn’t accidentally leak as well.
Given that this outbreak was said to begin in late December when most bat species in the region are hibernating and the Chinese horseshoe bat’s habitat covers an enormous swath of the region containing scores of cities and hundreds of millions people to begin with, the fact that this Wuhan Strain of coronavirus, denoted as Covid-19, emerged in close proximity to the only BSL-4 virology lab in China, now notoriously located in Wuhan, which in turn was staffed with at least two Chinese scientists – Zhengli Shi and Xing-Yi Ge (both virologists who had previously worked at an American lab which already bio-engineered an incredibly virulent strain of bat coronavirus) – the accidental escape of a virus meant for defensive immunotherapy research from Wuhan’s virology lab cannot be automatically discounted, especially when the Wuhan Strain’s unnatural genomic signals are considered.
Zhengli Shi notably co-authored a controversial paper in 2015 which describes the creation of a new virus by combining a coronavirus found in Chinese horseshoe bats with another that causes human-like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in mice.
This research sparked a huge debate at the time over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks.
As Nature.com reported in 2015, the findings reinforce suspicions that bat coronaviruses capable of directly infecting humans (rather than first needing to evolve in an intermediate animal host) may be more common than previously thought, the researchers say.
Of course, any notion that a similar virus could have escaped in the same town as the laboratory making chimeric, human-infecting coronvirus strains is “pure fabrication” according to the lab’s director – who may have a wall in China to sell you as well.