New studies bolster theory coronavirus emerged from the wild

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Two new studies provide more evidence that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a Wuhan, China market where live animals were sold–further bolstering the theory that the virus emerged in the wild rather than escaping from a Chinese lab.

The research, published online Tuesday by the journal Science, shows that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was likely the early epicenter of the scourge that has now killed nearly 6.4 million people around the world. Scientists conclude that the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, likely spilled from animals into people two separate times.

“All this evidence tells us the same thing: It points right to this particular market in the middle of Wuhan,” said Kristian Andersen a professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research and coauthor of one of the studies. “I was quite convinced of the lab leak myself until we dove into this very carefully and looked at it much closer.”

In one study, which incorporated data collected by Chinese scientists, University of Arizona evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey and his colleagues used mapping tools to estimate the locations of more than 150 of the earliest reported COVID-19 cases from December 2019. They also mapped cases from January and February 2020 using data from a social media app that had created a channel for people with COVID-19 to get help.

They asked, “Of all the locations that the early cases could have lived, where did they live? And it turned out when we were able to look at this, there was this extraordinary pattern where the highest density of cases was both extremely near to and very centered on this market,” Worobey said at a press briefing. “Crucially, this applies both to all cases in December and also to cases with no known link to the market … And this is an indication that the virus started spreading in people who worked at the market but then started to spread into the local community.”

Andersen said they found case clusters inside the market, too, “and that clustering is very, very specifically in the parts of the market” where they now know people were selling wildlife, such as raccoon dogs, that are susceptible to infection with the coronavirus.

In the other study, scientists analyzed the genomic diversity of the virus inside and outside of China starting with the earliest sample genomes in December 2019 and extending through mid-February 2020. They found that two lineages–A and B–marked the pandemic’s beginning in Wuhan. Study coauthor Joel Wertheim, a viral evolution expert at the University of California, San Diego, pointed out that lineage A is more genetically similar to bat coronaviruses, but lineage B appears to have begun spreading earlier in humans, particularly at the market.

“Now I realize it sounds like I just said that a once-in-a-generation event happened twice in short succession,” Wertheim said. But certain conditions were in place—such as people and animals in close proximity and a virus that can spread from animals to people and from person to person. So “barriers to spillover have been lowered such that multiple introductions, we believe, should actually be expected,” he said.

Many scientists believe the virus jumped from bats to humans, either directly or through another animal. But in June, the World Health Organization recommended a deeper probe into whether a lab accident may be to blame. Critics had said the WHO was too quick to dismiss the lab leak theory.

“Have we disproven the lab leak theory? No, we have not,” Andersen said. “But I think what’s really important here is there are possible scenarios and there are plausible scenarios and it’s really important to understand that possible does not mean equally likely.”

The pandemic’s origins remain controversial. Some scientists believe a lab leak is more likely and others remain open to both possibilities. But Matthew Aliota, a researcher in the college of veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota, said in his mind the pair of studies “kind of puts to rest, hopefully, the lab leak hypothesis.”

“Both of these two studies really provide compelling evidence for the natural origin hypothesis,” said Aliota, who wasn’t involved in either study. Since sampling an animal that was at the market is impossible, “this is maybe as close to a smoking gun as you could get.”

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11 thoughts on “New studies bolster theory coronavirus emerged from the wild

  1. Ha! Good one! You really expect Hoosiers to be able to read and understand this?! They are among the most scientifically illiterate folks in the country. They will all (or mostly) insist that it came from a Chinese bioweapons lab. Because that’s what Fox told them. That’s all that matters.

    1. Science done by the modern left: men can give birth. A fetus (Latin derived “bringing forth of young”, with the “fe–” morpheme sharing its origin with “fe” of “feminine” or “fi” of “offspring”) is not yet a human being. Oh, and to be 100 pounds overweight is perfectly healthy, and it definitely isn’t caused by overeating. It’s not the fatties’ faults.

      It was a Wuhan lab, Mikey. Just be sure, when you come another breathless defense of Tony Mengele Fauci, don’t use big words. I need to be able to understand you and all those massive-brained people writing for the completely reliable Associated Press.

    2. Lauren’s comment is a great example of why we need to re-think our modern public education system.

    3. Ooh, and what’s the Latin for “ignorant posturing and terrified deflection from the truth?”

    4. Well I’m a Hoosier and I understand all of this and just about everyone I know could understand this. The market theory has always been the most logical explanation. We still have many problems with China, not the least of which is an environment that allows this to happen. This could easily happen again and again. We need to draw a very hard line with the Chinese. They are not our friends and won’t be during our lifetimes

  2. All triggered opinions aside… this was always the most likely cause. There are plenty of reasons to have an issue with China, we don’t need a lab conspiracy layered on top. At the end of the day we still have to deal with the issue.

    Its part of a larger problem in terms of how the Chinese people live and do not have a good handle on food standards and regulation. This focus needs to be there because long term the growth of their population could lead to pandemics far more severe than COVID was if they don’t get it together.

    1. Point taken. While there’s probably a great deal of truth to the sub-par sanitary conditions of Chinese wet markets and the cultural fondness for eating critters that, if not properly prepared, absolutely form a health risk…

      …it’s not like we don’t have admissions from NIH and its funding of EcoHealth Alliance for gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, resulting in a novel coronavirus with an “unexpected result” of being highly infectious in mice, derived as a chimera from a known bat coronavirus. The journalistic source for this NIH admission? Science, also cited in the article above.

      So we have origin A and outcome C(OVID), yet somehow we must completely dismiss the notion of causal link B, since the viruses studied in Wuhan were “too evolutionarily distant from SARS-CoV-2”. Okey doke. And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. They are desperate to exonerate the WIV, EcoHealth alliance, and (clearly part of the spider’s web) the WHO and NIH and Fauci himself.

      Since more and more people are balking at the notion of buying this bridge, it’s time to drum up a new explanation…

    2. Lauren would know all about toxic viral spread – she was invented in a Russian propaganda lab.

  3. Did the research consider the lab person, once contaminated, went to the market and started the spread.? Doesn’t sound like it they mentioned it? Although Charlie, Frankie, and Mikey seem to have all of life figured out.

    1. Kevin, you hit the nail on the head.

      The lab was in the same area as the market. Also, it has been reported that the lab was relocated to that site during roughly the same period as the outbreak. The fact they traced it to the market is not a surprise. What is very odd is the reports of illness among some of the lab personnel, and the removal of select scientists by the Chinese government shortly after the outbreak, during some of the initial investigations.

      If you have not worked and/or traveled in China, you have no idea the about lack of sophistication among many in the population. I once stayed in a very modern luxury hotel in Shanghai, and the info sheet in the room explained, among many other odd instructions, that you should not have an open campfire in the room! Seriously. [I made a copy to show my family]. Not everyone working in their labs are Nobel prize recipients… wouldn’t take much to have an accident.