On the Origin of SARS Coronavirus 2

An overview of the main SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses (Source: Alina Chan, PhD)

Updated: March 2022
Published: April 2020
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A comprehensive summary of facts concerning the origin of the novel coronavirus.

Executive summary: The currently available evidence supports a lab-related origin of the novel coronavirus. The phylogenetic evidence links SARS-CoV-2 to a 2012 covid-like pneumonia incident in a Chinese mine near Mojiang. The virus samples of this incident were collected, stored and investigated by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). However, some US labs may also have had access to this data, as they were collaborating with the Wuhan lab in the field of coronavirus research. At the genetic level, the existence of a furin cleavage site involving a CGG-coded double arginine codon and a BsaXI Golden Gate seamless cloning site may indicate genetic engineering. In contrast, the search for an intermediate animal host has so far remained unsuccessful.

A. Previous pandemics and epidemics

  1. The two most recent (mild) global pandemics were the 1977 ‘Russian flu’ and the 2009 ‘swine flu’. In both of these cases, modern genetic research indicates that a lab escape was the most likely origin of the pandemic virus (see here and here). Yet in both cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) initially excluded this possibility (see here and here).
  2. The origin of the first SARS coronavirus in 2002 remains unknown, but a natural origin is generally assumed. However, since the discovery of SARS-1, at least four lab escapes of the virus from P3 and P4 high-security labs in Singapore, Taiwan and China have been documented.
  3. In December 2021, it was confirmed that a scientist had got infected with the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant after exposure in a Taiwanese P3 high-security lab.
  4. The 2007 outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain was also “very probably caused by a leak from a local laboratory”, according to a British government report.
  5. Concerned scientists have repeatedly warned of the risks involved in so-called “gain-of-function” virus research, which seeks to enhance the virulence or infectiousness of viruses through genetic engineering and other methods.

B. The Mojiang miners and the Wuhan Institute of Virology

  1. In February 2020, it became known that a bat virus called RaTG13, collected by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in 2013, was the closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2.
  2. In May 2020, it became known that RaTG13, previously known as BtCoV/4991, had been found in bat feces in a mineshaft near Mojiang in southwest China, after six miners fell ill with SARS-like pneumonia and three of them eventually died. At the time, the WIV received tissue and blood samples of the surviving and dead miners.
  3. The WIV itself didn’t disclose this link, however. Rather, in a March 2020 interview, the famous WIV “bat woman” Shi Zhengli falsely claimed that “a fungus” had caused the miners’ illness.
  4. It was only through a leaked Chinese medical dissertation that the link between the Mojiang miners, their SARS-like pneumonia, and the WIV lab became known. Of note, this medical dissertation was later removed from public access by Chinese authorities.
  5. Moreover, the WIV claimed that they hadn’t investigated the RaTG13 virus until after the outbreak of the pandemic (to compare it to Sars-CoV-2), but genetic database records later showed that the WIV had in fact investigated RaTG13 as of 2017 or 2018.
  6. Archived Chinese database entries showed that the origin of RaTG13 had been changed from “lung fluid” (from the miners) to “bat feces” in July 2020 without any explanation. In addition, the WIV claimed that the RaTG13 sample had “disintegrated” during their analyses and was no longer available, and thus no longer verifiable.
  7. Back in 2012/2013, the sick Mojiang miners were hospitalized for up to four months before being either discharged or dying. During this time, the lungs of the miners may have served as a kind of “human incubator”, possibly allowing the bat coronavirus to adapt to human cells much faster than would have been possible in the wild.
  8. The WIV is known to have infected “humanized mice” with bat coronaviruses, and there is video footage of insufficiently protected WIV employees being bitten by bats.
  9. WIV scientists studied bat coronaviruses not in a high-safety BSL-4 lab, but in BSL-2 and BSL-3 labs. The safety level of a BSL-2 lab is comparable to a dentist’s office.
  10. In September 2019, the WIV deleted a large genetic database containing information on their collection of cross-species bat coronaviruses.
  11. In December 2020, a group of BBC journalists tried to visit the Mojiang mine area in China’s south-western province of Yunnan, but was blocked by Chinese police and security forces. Other Western journalists were also blocked from accessing the area.
  12. In May 2021, three new Chinese medical dissertations were retrieved by independent researchers, which revealed that the WIV retained and studied several additional, but unpublished coronaviruses from the Mojiang mine very closely related to RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2.

C. The initial covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan

  1. According to a leaked Chinese investigation report, the first suspected covid-19 patients were admitted to Wuhan hospitals already in October of 2019. According to local Chinese press reports, SARS-CoV-2 was already circulating by November 2019.
  2. In September 2019, an inspection and review of virus samples at the WIV took place.
  3. On 12 September 2019, the WIV deleted its cross-species viral pathogen database.
  4. The theory that the initial outbreak had occurred at the Wuhan wet market turned out to be false, as most of the first infections had no connection to the wet market.
  5. To this day, no potential wild animal source of SARS-CoV-2 has been identified.
  6. In late 2019 or early 2020, the profile and photo of WIV employee Huang Yanling was deleted from the WIV website. The WIV later claimed that Huang Yanling hadn’t worked at the WIV since 2015; however, a photo of 2018 surfaced showing her together with the WIV team. Since late 2019, Huang Yanling seems to have disappeared. The US government argued that Huang Yanling may have been “covid patient zero” at the WIV.
  7. In March 2021, a member of the WHO team tasked with investigating the virus origin admitted to NBC News that some employees of the WIV had shown flu-like symptoms in autumn 2019, prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. The WIV claimed that by March 2020, none of its employees had antibodies to Sars-CoV-2, but even if true, this may well be due to antibody waning.
  8. An analysis of public data found that orders of PCR virus tests by the Wuhan University of Science and Technology and the Chinese CDC (also located in Wuhan) rose sharply as early as May 2019 and increased further from July to October 2019, although the use of these PCR tests remains uncertain.
  9. A scientific analysis published in Nature in October 2021 found thatcommunity transmission of SARS-CoV-2 was likely in several areas of Europe and the United States by January 2020 () with possible introductions and transmission events as early as December 2019″.
  10. An independent analysis found that the US National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI) may have received first reports of a possible virus outbreak in Wuhan in mid-November 2019.

D. Genetic peculiarities of SARS-CoV-2

  1. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus features a so-called furin cleavage site (FCS), which makes the virus more infectious and virulent than it would otherwise be. Such an FCS is not known in any other SARS-like coronavirus, but it is often inserted as part of gain-of-function studies in virus research. However, similar FCS are known to occur in non-SARS-like coronaviruses, hence a natural origin cannot be excluded based on this.
  2. The furin cleavage site found in SARS-CoV-2 uses a CGG-coded arginine (amino acid) double codon, which is quite rare in natural coronaviruses, but is quite common in engineered viruses used in lab experiments with humanized mice.
  3. David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of CalTech, said the following about the furin cleavage site: “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. () These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2.”
  4. In July 2020, US virologist Alina Chan first noted that the peculiar genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 furin cleavage site (viz. an out-of-frame insertion of a Proline amino acid codon) creates a very specific genetic structure (viz. a Golden Gate BsaXI restriction site) that would be expected if the furin cleavage site was inserted via “seamless” cloning. This technique was pioneered by US virologist Ralph Baric, but might also have been used by Chinese researchers.
  5. US coronavirus researcher Ralph Baric stated in an interview on the origin of SARS-CoV-2: “You can engineer a virus without leaving any trace. However, the answers you are looking for can only be found in the archives of the Wuhan laboratory.”
  6. In a FOIA-released email to NIAID director Anthony Fauci and Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar, sent on January 31, 2020, US virologist Kristian Andersen wrote that “after discussions earlier today, [we] all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” Yet after a teleconference with Fauci the following day, Andersen and his colleagues wrote a much-cited letter to Nature Medicine, claiming that SARS-CoV-2 had arisen naturally.
  7. SARS-CoV-2 is exceedingly well adapted to human ACE2 cell receptors, is highly transmissible from human to human, and has remained remarkably stable since its first detection. All of these attributes would be very surprising if the virus had indeed jumped from an animal to a human for the first time in autumn 2019.
  8. In March 2021, Russian-Canadian geneticist Yuri Deigin argued that the furin cleavage site found in SARS-CoV-2 may indicate that the virus was used as an attenuated virus in the context of coronavirus vaccine research. Another geneticist argued that SARS-CoV-2 is the first known beta-coronavirus that can be vaccinated against.
  9. Bat coronaviruses very similar to SARS-CoV-2 have also been found in northern Laos (bordering Yuannan, China); of note, the US military and the French Institute Pasteur were sampling bat viruses in northern Laos already back in 2017, and some of these coronavirus samples were sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. However, the coronaviruses found in northern Laos do not feature a furin cleavage site.
  10. Some studies indicated that the earliest virus samples found in the US were genetically closer to the ancestral virus than the earliest samples found in Wuhan, which could point to a US origin of the coronavirus (see section G below).
  11. The gene sequence of the peculiar SARS-CoV-2 furin cleavage site is a 100% complementary match to a codon-optimized sequence found in a 2016 cancer gene therapy patent by Moderna. When asked to explain this, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel could not provide an answer. However, it remains unclear if this complementary match is accidental or not.

E. US links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology

  1. In addition to the WIV, the US military, the US CDC and US universities have also done research on SARS-like bat coronaviruses, including gain-of-function research.
  2. In 2014, some of the US research was halted for safety concerns and moved to the WIV in China. Thus, some of the high-risk coronavirus research at the WIV was financed by US institutions, including, notably, the US NIAID led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
  3. In addition, a US NGO called “Ecohealth Alliance” worked with US institutions, the US military, and the Chinese WIV, collecting and investigating SARS-like bat coronaviruses to “prevent the next pandemic”. Ecohealth Alliance is led by Dr. Peter Daszak.
  4. In November 2019, before the novel coronavirus become publicly known, Peter Daszak openly stated that Ecohealth Alliance and the WIV were doing the type of research that could create viruses like SARS-CoV-2.
  5. Although not widely known, the US military is the largest sponsor of Ecohealth Alliance. In fact, Ecohealth Alliance may be described as a US military contractor or front organization.
  6. A leaked 2018 US DARPA grant application by EcoHealth and the WIV describes the planning of high-risk coronavirus experiments, including the introduction of “human-specific cleavage sites” to bat coronaviruses and the “release of skin-penetrating nanoparticles and aerosols containing ‘novel chimeric spike proteins’ of bat coronaviruses into cave bats in Yunnan, China.” The idea appears to have been to “immunize” bats against coronaviruses that could jump to humans (Project DEFUSE).

F. The official “investigation” into the origin of SARS-CoV-2

  1. There are two “official” groups tasked with investigating the origin of SARS-CoV-2: a group assembled by the WHO and a group assembled by the science journal The Lancet.
  2. The Lancet Covid-19 Commission chose Ecohealth Alliance president Peter Daszak to lead the SARS-CoV-2 origin investigation. Although clearly not impartial, Daszak is also a member of the WHO virus origin investigation team, which had to be approved by China.
  3. Moreover, a FOIA request revealed that early scientific letters claiming that a lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 was “extremely unlikely” or a “conspiracy theory” were in fact coordinated behind the scenes by none other than Ecohealth Alliance president Peter Daszak; 26 of 27 scientists who signed these letters had links to the Wuhan lab.
  4. Another FOIA request revealed that leading virologists like Ralph Baric were well aware that a lab escape was a very real possibility, but didn’t want to discuss this publicly. Molecular biologist professor Richard Ebright called the WHO mission “a charade”.
  5. In March 2021, former US CDC director Robert Redfield said that he believed SARS-CoV-2 came from the WIV lab: “I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and, at that moment in time, the virus () became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission.”
  6. Also in March 2021, a group of researchers demanded a transparent and thorough investigation in an open letter published by several newspapers.
  7. In October 2021, the Lancet commission on the origins of the coronavirus, led by EcoHealth president Peter Daszak, was shut down over “conflicts of interest”; the WHO created a new group without Peter Daszak, but one third of its members still had conflicts of interest.
  8. US biosafety expert Dr. Meryl Nass argued that the authors of the much-cited March 2020 letter to Nature Medicine (claiming a natural origin of SARS-CoV-2) may have been “longstanding government agents [working for the US military], in addition to having real science jobs.”

G. Additional aspects

  1. On October 18, 2019, a one-day coronavirus pandemic simulation called Event 201 was held in New York City. The event was organized by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and was sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Based on the above timeline, Event 201 may have been held about one month after the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, but about two months before the first public notice about the new virus. In June 2001, Johns Hopkins University had organized a similar simulation of bio-attacks, about three months before the anthrax letter attacks occurred after September 11. The US government tried to blame these anthrax letters on Iraq, but the anthrax spores were later traced back to a US military biolab. The FBI accused two US military scientists, but never found the real perpetrators.
  2. Also on October 18, 2019, the Military World Games were held in Wuhan, at which several participants contracted a covid-like disease, according to later reports. China argued that SARS-CoV-2 may have been imported to Wuhan by US participants of the military games.
  3. In July 2019, the US biodefense facility at Fort Detrick was closed over “safety concerns”.
  4. Also in July 2019, some nursing homes in northern Virginia, about 50 miles from Fort Detrick, reported an outbreak of a “mystery respiratory disease”, typically “starting with a cough”, that claimed several lives. At the time, the US CDC could not identify the pathogen responsible for the respiratory disease.
  5. Beginning in June 2019, the US experienced a rather mysterious “vaping lung disease” (later termed EVALI) in mostly young adults, with symptoms quite similar to covid-19. The official explanation of “vitamin E acetate” as a filler in illegal THC vapes was not convincing, as the addition of this substance hadn’t been a new phenomenon. Moreover, EVALI apparently disappeared in parallel to the onset of the covid pandemic in early 2020. However, EVALI had not been reported to be infectious.
  6. Also in July 2019, a Chinese scientist and her team were removed by Canadian police from Canada’s only P4 high-security lab over an undisclosed ‘policy breach’. In 2018 and 2019, the Chinese scientist was sending highly dangerous Ebola and Henipa viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was performing research in cooperation with the Canadian lab.
  7. A few studies claimed to have found SARS-CoV-2 PCR samples outside of China dating back to autumn or even summer 2019, but these were individual cases that couldn’t be confirmed and that may have been due to contamination or false-positive test results.
  8. In late January 2020, dubious videos claiming to show “coronavirus-infected people collapsing in the streets of Wuhan” appeared online. In reality, these videos showed unrelated accidents and medical emergencies and even homeless people. The distribution of these videos occurred via social media and Western news agencies.
  9. In June 2020, US evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein argued that if someone wanted to “make it look like” a lab leak, Wuhan would have been the ideal place to release the virus to “hide their tracks”. For some US labs, it would have been rather easy to engineer a coronavirus that looks like a WIV lab leak, as they had extensive access to WIV viral databases.
  10. The first media outlets to suggest, in early January 2020, that the novel coronavirus may have leaked from a Chinese “bioweapons program”, were the CIA-founded and US government-controlled Radio Free Asia and the Washington Times; the latter quoted Israeli military intelligence biowarfare specialist Dany Shoham, who in 2001 promoted false claims that the US anthrax letter attacks were linked to Iraq.
  11. See also: Is Wuhan a Red Herring? (The Requestor, February 2022) An analysis discussing the shut down of Fort Detrick, the “mystery virus” in US nursing homes, the mysterious “EVALI epidemic”, and genetic evidence pointing to a possible US origin of the coronavirus.

Annex 1: Figures

A) Phylogeography of SARS-CoV-2

A) Phylogeography of SARS-CoV-2 (Latham/Wilson)

B) 2016 email by Peter Daszak to NIAID on GOF research

2016 email by Peter Daszak to NIAID on GOF research (WCWP)

C) Possible origins of SARS-CoV-2

Possible origins of SARS-CoV-2 (VanDongen)

D) Indications of genetic engineering at SARS-CoV-2 furin cleavage site

Indications of genetic engineering at SARS-CoV-2 furin cleavage site (source)

E) July 2019 nursing home respiratory disease outbreaks and US military medical labs

July 2019 nursing home respiratory disease outbreaks and US military medical labs (source)

F) US and Chinese coronavirus researchers at a 2018 symposium in Wuhan

US and Chinese coronavirus researchers at a 2018 symposium in Wuhan

G) The Wuhan Institute of Virology

The Wuhan Institute of Virology

Annex 2: Scientific papers

  1. Lab-Made? SARS-CoV-2 Genealogy Through the Lens of Gain-of-Function Research (Deigin, Medium, April 2020)
  2. Might SARS‐CoV‐2 Have Arisen via Serial Passage through an Animal Host or Cell Culture? (Sirotkin and Sirotkin, Bioessays, April/August 2020)
  3. Did a Review of Samples Collected from a Mineshaft Cause the COVID-19 Pandemic? (Anonymous, Zenodo, September 2020)
  4. Lethal Pneumonia Cases in Mojiang miners (2012) and the mine could provide important clues to the origin of SARS-CoV-2 (Rahalkar and Bahulikar, FPubH, October 2020)
  5. Should we discount the laboratory origin of COVID-19? (Segreto et al., ECL, March 2021)
  6. The genetic structure of SARS‐CoV‐2 does not rule out a laboratory origin (Segreto and Deigin, Bioessays, November 2020)
  7. An investigation into the WIV databases that were taken offline (Demaneuf et al., Feb. 2021)
  8. SARS-CoV-2′s claimed natural origin is undermined by issues with genome sequences of its relative strains (Deigin & Segreto, BioEssays, May 2021)
  9. Thunder out of China (Yuri Deigin, Inference Review, February 2022)

Annex 3: Selected press articles

  1. From 2014: A New Killer Virus in China? (Science Magazine, March 2014)
  2. How China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus (Scientific American, March 2020)
  3. Dr. Fauci Backed Controversial Wuhan Lab with U.S. Dollars for Risky Coronavirus Research (Newsweek, April 2020)
  4. Pentagon biolab discovered MERS and SARS-like coronaviruses in bats (Arms Watch, April 2020)
  5. Seven year coronavirus trail from mine deaths to a Wuhan lab (London Times, July 2020)
  6. Did the Covid-19 virus really escape from a Wuhan lab? (The Telegraph, February 2021)

Annex 4: The DRASTIC online research group

The connection between SARS-CoV-2, RaTG13, the Mojiang mine and the WIV was first discovered by members of an informal online research group called DRASTIC. In particular, members of this group first discovered the Chinese medical dissertation linking the WIV to the hushed-up 2012 SARS-like incident in a Mojiang mine, caused by RaTG13 or a similar SARS-like coronavirus.

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