Technology

They called it a conspiracy theory. But Alina Chan tweeted about the idea that the virus came from a lab.


However, the obvious problem with the lab leak theory is that there is no concrete evidence for this. Chan doesn’t have a particular view on how exactly an accident happened — whether a student fell ill in a bat cave, for example, or a secret research failed to infect mice with a new virus. After reading Chan’s posts, I noticed that many of her claims don’t even relate to direct evidence at all; Often times, they revolve around his absence. It tends to point to things Chinese researchers did not do or say, important facts they did not quickly reveal, an infected market animal they never found, or a database that is no longer online. It clearly indicates the existence of a cover-up – and thus, a conspiracy to hide the truth.

pre-conditioned

Last February, when top scientists gathered to analyze the virus’ genome, they ended up publishing two letters. one in scalpel, explicitly dismissed the possibility of a lab accident as a “conspiracy theory” (its authors were among the scientists who funded research in the Wuhan lab). was the other”close assets“A Treatise in Nature Medicine, co-authored by Christian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Andersen and colleagues looked at the virus’s genome and garnered arguments as to why it might occur naturally—supported by evidence that it is similar to what is found in Nature.

The 30,000 genetic letters in this genome remain the most studied evidence of the origin of the virus. Coronaviruses often exchange parts — a phenomenon called recombination. Andersen found that all components of the virus had been seen before in samples collected over the years from animals. He believed that evolution could produce them. The Wuhan Institute was genetically engineering bat viruses for scientific experiments, but the SARS-CoV-2 genome did not match any of the preferred “structure” viruses used in those experiments, nor did it contain any other obvious sign of engineering.

According to Clarivate, an analytics company, the Nature Medicine letter was the 55th most-cited article of 2020, with over 1,300 citations in the journals tracked. Email records will later show that, as of January 2020, the letter was the subject of high-level urgent letters and conference calls between the letter’s authors, Anthony Fauci, president of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Leading virologists and president of the Wellcome Trust, a major UK pharmaceutical research funding organisation. Early on, the authors worried that the virus looked suspicious before quickly converging on a scientific analysis supporting a natural cause. Initially one of their goals was to stamp out rumors that the virus was a biological weapon or the result of an engineering error, but they ended up going further, writing: “We don’t think any kind of laboratory scenario is credible.”

Working from her home in Massachusetts, Chan quickly found a way to revive the lab accident theory by looking for differences with SARS, a similar virus that spread in 2002 but only caused about 8,000 diseases. With Shing Zhan, a bioinformatics specialist at the University of British Columbia, Chan looked at early human cases of Covid and saw that the new virus did not mutate as quickly as SARS. I thought that if it was an animal virus from the market, its genome would show signs of adapting more quickly to perfectly suit its new human host. She prepared an analysis saying the virus was “pre-adapted” to humans and offered some theories as to why. It may have been spreading undetected elsewhere in China. Or maybe, I thought, it was growing in a lab somewhere, maybe it’s reproducing in human cells or in genetically modified mice that have human genes spliced ​​into them.

She wrote that the possibility that a non-engineered virus might “accommodate humans while being studied in the laboratory should be taken into account, regardless of how likely or likely it may be.”

On May 2, 2020, Chan posted a preprint paper, co-authored with Deverman and Zhan, to the bioRxiv website, an online place for quickly communicating results that have not been reviewed by other scientists. “Our observations indicate that by the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it had already been pre-adapted for human transmission,” they wrote. The Broad Institute’s Department of Communications also pointed to Chan for examples of how to compose a “tweet,” a series of sequential posts, with photos, that presents a rigorous scientific argument to a broader audience. Posted her first tweet The next day.

For journalists questioning China’s handling of the virus, the thread – and the one that followed it – was dynamite. This was a real scientist at America’s largest genetics center who was explaining why the official story might be wrong. “Coronavirus did not come from animals in the Wuhan market,” shouted the Daily Mail headlines, in what became Chan’s first appearance in the public conversation.

While her report was a media success, what the Daily Mail called Chan’s “historic paper” was not formally accepted by a scientific journal. Chan says this is due to censorship because it raised the possibility of lab origin. However, Eisen of the University of California at Davis believes Chan’s predictions about how the COVID-19 virus should have acted remains speculative. He doesn’t think we’ve tracked enough outbreaks in enough molecular detail to know what’s really normal. He notes that COVID-19 has continued to change and adapt.

My colleagues said, this is a conspiracy – don’t bother. I said, No, I will treat this like any other paper,” says Eisen, who took the time to study the manuscript. “I think it is interesting what I have tried to do, but I am not convinced of the result, and I think the conclusions were wrong. I don’t commend her for posting. Many of the people who push the lab origin theory don’t make claims based on logic, but it has provided evidence for it. I don’t agree with that, but that’s science.”

True or false, though, the word Chan used — “pre-adapted” — sends chills down the spines of people like author Nicholson Baker. “We were dealing with a disease that was exceptionally good, right out of the gate, at chewing human airways,” says Baker, who reached out to Chan to learn more. Several months later, in January of this year, Baker will publish a lengthy report in New York Magazine Saying he became convinced that the lab accident was the cause. He cited various sources, including Chan.

pangolin problem

Chan didn’t finish making holes in the natural origins narrative. Then I took four research papers published quickly in early 2020, two of them in Nature, describing viruses in pangolins — endangered mammals sometimes eaten as a delicacy in China — that share similarities with SARS-CoV-2. If researchers can find all of the components of a pandemic virus, especially in wild animals illegally trafficked as food, they can determine the case for the spread of the virus from nature, given the way coronaviruses exchange parts. Pangolin Leaves, published in quick succession in early 2020, was a promising start. For the authors of “Proximal Origins,” these similar viruses provided “strong” and “scarce” evidence of natural emergence.

Chan and Zhan note that all of the papers described the same group of animals—although some failed to acknowledge the overlap. Someone even renamed the data, making it look new. For Chan, this wasn’t just dirty work or scientific misconduct. And I thought there could be a “coordination” between the overlapping authors of all these papers, some of whom have published together before. I created the hashtag #pangolinpapers – reminiscent of the Panama Papers, documents that exposed secret offshore financial transactions.

You might have thought that researchers were now laundering the data to make nature appear to be swimming with similar viruses.

Chan began emailing authors and journals to get the raw data they needed to fully analyze what they had done. Making such data available is usually a requirement of publication, but it can still be difficult to obtain. After what she described as months of procrastination, Chan finally lost her temper and leveled an accusation from her browser. “I need scientists + editors who are directly or indirectly covering up the serious research integrity issues surrounding some major SARS-2-like viruses to stop and think a little,” she wrote on Twitter. “If your actions obscure the origins of SARS-2, you are playing a role in the deaths of millions of people.”

Eddie Holmes, a prominent Australian virologist and co-author of one of those papers (as well as “close origins”), described the tweet as “one of the most despicable things I’ve read on the issue of origins”. He felt accused, but has since wondered why he was accused his paper She was properly responsible for sourcing pangolin data. Holmes then circulated a complex timeline prepared by Chan of publication dates and previous connections between the authors. The dense graph network of stocks and links bears an unmistakable resemblance to a morbid cork board covered in red thread and mounting pins.





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