Coronavirus bats dna
Image Credit: Gulf News

Highlights

  • Experiments on lab-grown pathogens, a.k.a. "chimera viruses", had been going on for years
  • They were done through so-called gain-of-function (GOF) research comprising virologists from across the world -— US, Europe, China
  • As early as 2015, a group of researchers has successfully created a "hybrid version of a bat coronavirus — one related to the virus that causes SARS"
  • Some of those experiments were funded with US taxpayers' money
  • Scientists and ethicists have been engaged in raging debates over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks
  • In the 21st century, genetic sequencing and engineering are the new big-power frontiers

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, was shut on January 1, 2020 by Chinese authorities.

The common narrative told to us by the WHO, who got their information from Chinese authorities, is that the market was “ground zero”, or origin, of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The story has been told that the virus jumped from bats to humans, with the “patient zero” being identified as a shrimp vendor in that wet market.

Chinese scholars saw otherwise.

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, Hubei Province -021
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Image Credit: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Here's a Q&A, with answers based on available, published papers:

Q: Did the SARS-CoV-2 virus jump from animals (believed to be bats, and other 'intermediate hosts') to humans in Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market?

No. Clinical data from China clearly dispute this claim. Chinese authorities and experts are at odds about the real origin of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Q: What’s the evidence showing where it started?

At least two clinical studies, published six days apart in January 2020 (January 24 and January 30, 2020) disprove this Huanan-Seafood-Wholesale-Market-was-the-origin-of-SARS-CoV-2 narrative.

The studies were prepared by top-level Chinese clinical researchers.

Copy of 2020-02-06T063323Z_474468451_RC2UUE9ADN51_RTRMADP_3_CHINA-HEALTH [1]-1581489678402
Medical workers in protective suits attend to patients at the Wuhan International Conference and Exhibition Center, which has been converted into a makeshift hospital to receive patients with mild symptoms caused by the novel coronavirus, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 5, 2020. Picture taken February 5, 2020. Image Credit: China Daily via Reuters

Q: Who are the researchers? 

They are mostly Chinese medical doctors and clinicians. The first group, published a study in The Lancet on January 24, 2020, studied 41 patients — and showed that only 27 of the 41 initial patients confirmed to have contracted the infection, then known as 2019-nCoV, were exposed to Huanan market.

This study was funded by Ministry of Science and Technology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission.

A second team, which published their work in The Lancet on January 30, 2020, studied 99 patients, all confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV, in Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital from January 1 to January 20, 2020.

All cases were confirmed by real-time RT-PCR, the most reliable RNA/DNA-based test today.

Of the 99 patients in the second study (with “2019-nCoV pneumonia”, later known as SARS-CoV-2), only 49 (49%) had a history of exposure to the Huanan seafood market.

Interestingly, it did not identify the geographical origins of the 50 other cases. The second was authored by the following:

  • Prof Nanshan Chen, MD - Tuberculosis and Respiratory Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Prof Min Zhou, MD - Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China
  • Xuan Dong, PhD - Tuberculosis and Respiratory Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Prof Jieming Qu, MD - Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China
  • Fengyun Gong, MD - Infection Disease Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Yang Han, PhD - Science and Education Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Prof Yang Qiu, PhD - State Key Laboratory of Virology, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Center for Biosafety Mega-Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, China
  • Jingli Wang, MD - Infection Disease Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Ying Liu, MD - The Office of Drug Clinical Trial Institution, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Yuan Wei, MD - Tuberculosis and Respiratory Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Jia'an Xia, MD - Tuberculosis and Respiratory Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Ting Yu, MD - Tuberculosis and Respiratory Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan, China
  • Prof Xinxin Zhang, MD - Research Laboratory of Clinical Virology, Ruijin Hospital and Ruijin Hospital North, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, Shanghai
  • Prof Li Zhang, MD - Tuberculosis and Respiratory Department, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Dongxihu District, Wuhan

Link to the full text of The Lancet paper.

Q: What do the numbers mean?

It means NO scientific evidence supports the claim that SARS-CoV-2 (virus that causes COVID-19) came from the Wuhan market. The market's shrimp vendor identified as "patient zero", is just a descriptive phrase that holds no scientific value.

In the initial clinical research prepared by top Chinese experts (Prof. Choalin Huang, Dr Yeming Wang and Prof. Xingwang Li) in the The Lancet, only 27 patients (66 per cent) of initial 41 found cases were known to have had exposure to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale market.

The rest, 33 per cent, were not.

Q: Why is it wrong to say the novel coronavirus came from Wuhan market?

It's misleading. The clinical data does not support such claim, 2 million people had been infected and nearly 130,000 dead, many of them buried in mass graves.

If it's not mass murder, caused by this unseen enemy, then the phrase has no meaning. It has shut down the world, too, to say nothing about the reported long-term damage to the lungs of those who recovered.

Indeed, the Chinese researchers themselves cited major "gaps" in their study, saying: "Major gaps in our knowledge of the origin, epidemiology, duration of human transmission, and clinical spectrum of disease need fulfilment by future studies."

Q: How different is the novel coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) from SARS-CoV(1) and MERS, and how deadly is the new virus to humans?

They're all deadly. The Chinese clinicians identified two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, as they cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans. In contrast, they also mentioned four other human coronaviruses (HCoV-OC43, HCoV-229E, HCoV-NL63, HCoV-HKU1), which only induce mild upper respiratory disease.

BASIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2
Explaining the DNA differences, the researchers stated: "The (genetic) sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus.

"SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats. But the origin of 2019-nCoV (later renamed SARS-CoV-2) needs further investigation.

"2019-nCoV also has enveloped virions that measure approximately 50–200 nM (nanometers) in diameter with a single positive-sense RNA genome." (mean diameter = 125 nM)

By comparison, the SARS-CoV virus has a mean diameter of 78 nM, according to the NIH. https://bit.ly/2XEmiwN

MERS-CoV is measured between 80-160 nM.

(1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a meter)

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30183-5/fulltext

Q: How many types of human coronavirus are known to science?

"Coronaviruses" are called such for the crown-like spikes on their surface. The CDC has identified 4 main sub-groupings of coronaviruses, known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.

Common human coronaviruses

  • 229E (alpha coronavirus)
  • NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
  • OC43 (beta coronavirus)
  • HKU1 (beta coronavirus)

Other human coronaviruses

  • MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS)
  • SARS-CoV (or SARS-CoV1, the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS)
  • SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19)

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/types.html

WHAT IS A VIRION?
Virion, an entire virus particle, consisting of an outer protein shell called a capsid and an inner core of nucleic acid (either ribonucleic or deoxyribonucleic acid—RNA or DNA). The core confers infectivity, and the capsid provides specificity to the virus.

Q: What are the most common causes of human coronavirus infection?

People around the world commonly get infected with human coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1.

Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and make people sick and become a new human coronavirus. Three recent examples of this are SARS-CoV-2 (or 2019-nCoV), SARS-CoV(1), and MERS-CoV.

WHAT IS A PATHOGEN
In biology, a pathogen (Greek: πάθος pathos "suffering", "passion" and -γενής -genēs "producer of") in the oldest and broadest sense, is anything that can produce disease.

A pathogen may also be referred to as an infectious agent, or simply a germ.

The term pathogen came into use in the 1880s. Typically, the term is used to describe an infectious microorganism or agent, such as a virus, bacterium, protozoan, prion, viroid, or fungus.

Q: Has there ever been a lab-engineered coronavirus from bats?

Yes.

On November 12, 2015, the highly-respected scientific journal Nature published an article about one.

In the explanatory note, researchers stated: “An experiment that created a hybrid version of a bat coronavirus — one related to the virus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) — has triggered renewed debate over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks.”

“…The results indicate that group 2b viruses encoding the SHC014 spike in a wild-type backbone can efficiently use multiple orthologs of the SARS receptor human angiotensin converting enzyme II (ACE2), replicate efficiently in primary human airway cells and achieve in vitro titers equivalent to epidemic strains of SARS-CoV. Additionally, in vivo experiments demonstrate replication of the chimeric virus in mouse lung with notable pathogenesis.

- Nature Medicine https://www.nature.com/articles/nm.3985
VIRAL OURBREAKS LINKED TO BATS
Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin Source: https://bit.ly/2xesS1X

Q: What is the research and who were the authors of this 'chimeric virus'?

The researchers examined the disease potential of a SARS-like virus, SHC014-CoV, which was identified as circulating in Chinese horseshoe bat populations.

Using what they described as "SARS-CoV reverse genetics system", the reseachers said that they generated and characterised a "chimeric virus expressing the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014 in a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV backbone."

The researchers and their affiliations are the following:

  • Vineet D Menachery, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Boyd L Yount Jr, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Kari Debbink, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Lisa E Gralinski, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Jessica A Plante, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Rachel L Graham, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Trevor Scobey, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Xing-Yi Ge, Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, China
  • Eric F Donaldson, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Scott H Randell, Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Antonio Lanzavecchia, Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Bellinzona Institute of Microbiology, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Wayne A Marasco, Department of Cancer Immunology and AIDS, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  • Zhengli-Li Shi, Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, China
  • Ralph S Baric, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA

Source: Nature, "A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence" (Published November 9, 2015)

Q: What's a key highlight of this study?

One of the results highlighted in the study states: “…we generated and characterized a chimeric virus expressing the spike of coronavirus SHC014 in a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV backbone."

"The results indicate that group 2b viruses encoding the SHC014 spike in a wild-type backbone can efficiently use multiple orthologs of the SARS receptor human angiotensin converting enzyme II (ACE2), replicate efficiently in primary human airway cells and achieve in vitro titers equivalent to epidemic strains of SARS-CoV."

"Additionally, in vivo experiments demonstrate replication of the chimeric virus in mouse lung with notable pathogenesis.”

ORTHOLOGS DEFINED
Orthologs are genes in different species that evolved from a common ancestral gene by speciation, and, in general, orthologs retain the same function during the course of evolution. Identification of orthologs is a critical process for reliable prediction of gene function in newly sequenced genomes.

By contrast, paralogs are homologous genes that have evolved by duplication and code for protein with similar, but not identical functions. Homology = similarity due to shared ancestry between a pair of structures or genes in different taxa (plural of taxon, a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms seen by taxonomists to form a unit.)

Q: Was the S protein on the SARS-CoV-2 lab generated, and that it's a chimeric virus modified from the original SARS-CoV, with the addition of the desired S protein to make them more bind easily to human cells, thus amplifying their virulence and transmissibility?

It's hard to say. There's no perfect knowledge on tnis virulent enemy.

One study, (a pre-print, non-peer-reviewed and has been reportedly withdrawn) in January 2020 shows the supposed link, claiming SARS-CoV-2 exhibited an "uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag." This kicked up a trail of conspiracy theories.

Another study, titled "HIV-1 did not contribute to the 2019-nCoV genome", published on February 14, 2020 in "Emerging Microbes and Infections", disputed it, saying there's no direct link.

Both studies made use of comparative genetic sequences of the viruses they investigated. Gene editing, a super specialised field, is an exclusive domain of highly specialised few. It may be a perpetual challenge to figure out the real cause or cure for SARS-CoV-2.

What's clear is that there's a group of US Federal government-funded researchers who made a lab-generated virus that examined the disease-causing potential of SHC-014-CoV, described as a "SARS-like virus".

In the abstract, the researchers stated that they "generated and characterized a chimeric virus expressing the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014 in a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV backbone."

CAPTION FROM NATURE
Caption written by researchers on 'Nature': Coronavirus strains are maintained in quasi-species pools circulating in bat populations. (a,b) Traditional SARS-CoV emergence theories posit that host-range mutants (red circle) represent random and rare occurrences that permit infection of alternative hosts. The secondary-host paradigm (a) argues that a nonhuman host is infected by a bat progenitor virus and, through adaptation, facilitates transmission to humans; subsequent replication in humans leads to the epidemic viral strain. The direct paradigm (b) suggests that transmission occurs between bats and humans without the requirement of an intermediate host; selection then occurs in the human population with closely related viruses replicating in a secondary host, permitting continued viral persistence and adaptation in both. (c) The data from chimeric SARS-like viruses argue that the quasi-species pools maintain multiple viruses capable of infecting human cells without the need for mutations (red circles). Although adaptations in secondary or human hosts may be required for epidemic emergence, if SHC014 spike–containing viruses recombined with virulent CoV backbones (circles with green outlines), then epidemic disease may be the result in humans. Existing data support elements of all three paradigms. Image Credit: Nature [https://www.nature.com/articles/nm.3985]
WHAT IS A CHIMERA?
In microbiology, the term chimera refers to an individual organism whose body contained cell populations from different zygotes or an organism that developed from portions of different embryos.

Chimeric flaviviruses have been created in an attempt to make novel live attenuated vaccines (against polio, for example).

In Greek mythology, and Harry Potter series, a chimera is a creature such as a hippogriff (head and wings of an eagle, body of a horse) or a gryphon (head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion) formed from parts of different animals.

Q: Chimeric virus: Double meaning?

It's a well-known term used in the virology community. A chimeric virus has a double meaning. One, it refers to dormat viruses revived by scientists after being unearthed in the frozen wasteland of Siberia.

Two, it denotes research by virologists to allow viruses to "gain" -- or improve -- "function", by combining parts of other viruses or other organisms.

FROM TWO OR MORE MICROORGANISMS
A chimera virus is defined by the Center for Veterinary Biologics (part of the US Department of Agriculture) as a "new hybrid microorganism created by joining nucleic acid fragments from two or more different microorganisms in which each of at least two of the fragments contain essential genes necessary for replication."

[Source: Center for Veterinary Biologics Notice No. 05-23. USDA website. Dec.8, 2005 https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/vet_biologics/publications/notice_05_23.pdf]

There had been at least one scientific conference among hundreds of biotech, epidemiology and virology experts that saw fierce debates on the merits of developing chimeric or "franken-viruses".

Q: What is the "mechanism of virulence" (MOV) of SARS-CoV(1)?

The SARS virus and its structural proteins are well known to exclusive community of biotech, virology and genetic engineering experts around the world.

These structural proteins of the SARS-CoV (1) have been targetted by researchers for new "treatment" options.

In 2004, virologists demonstrated how retroviruses pseudotyped with the SARS coronavirus spike protein efficiently infects cells expressing angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in humans.

ACE2 AND THE HUMAN LUNGS
Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), long known to virologists, is the receptor for both the SARS-CoV and the related human respiratory coronavirus NL63, expressed in human airway epithelia as well as lung parenchyma.

Expression of ACE2 in poorly-differentiated epithelia facilitated the entry of SARS spike (S) protein-pseudotyped virus, according to 2005 study published in the Journal of Virology. Consistent with the expression pattern of ACE2, the entry of SARS-CoV or a lentivirus pseudotyped with SARS-CoV S protein in differentiated epithelia was more efficient when applied to the apical surface.

SARS-CoV-2 has shown utmost MOV efficiency in infecting the human lungs through its "S" spike (spike glycoprotein, gp, or "exoprotein") that infects the lung cells by binding to the ACE2 receptors.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1287568/

The researchers then "found that two retroviruses, simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and murine leukemia virus, both expressing green fluorescent protein and pseudotyped with SARS-CoV S protein or S-protein variants, efficiently infected HEK293T cells stably expressing ACE2."

coronavirus structure
A simple illustration of a coronavirus. Since the 1960s, many distinct CoVs have been identified in humans and have tended to cause mild illnesses, such as colds and urinary tract infections. Image Credit: https://thenativeantigencompany.com/coronaviruses-the-next-disease-x/

Q: What is the function of spike glycoprotein (or S gp) of the SARS-CoV(1)?

Intra- and extracellular proteases often cleave the S protein into S1 and S2 domains (or a cell), with the cleavage process often increasing infectivity of the virus. Molecular modelling has been performed for the S1 and S2 units of the SARS-CoV spike protein.

"The spike proteins of coronaviruses are reported to bind to receptors on their target cells and the domains responsible for receptor-binding are commonly situated in the N-terminal region of S1. The spikes consist of oligomeric structures, that are formed by heptad repeats of the S2 domain which also represent a fusion peptide sequence. This peptide is responsible for the coronavirus fusion activity."

MECHANISM OF ACTION (MOA) VS. MECHANISM OF VILURENCE (MOV)
In pharmacology (study of the uses, effects and modes of action of drugs) the term mechanism of action (MOA) refers to the specific biochemical interaction through which a drug substance produces its pharmacological effect.

In virology, mechanism of virulence (also "mechanism of pathogenicity") refers to the pathogenic behaviour in vivo (in a living organisms) or in vitro (in a test tube) of a virus and its capacity to produce diseases.

Source:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC378451/pdf/bactrev00078-0035.pdf

Q: What is the mechanism of virulence of HIV?

HIV gradually destroys the immune system by attacking and destroying a type of white blood cell, called a CD4 cell. CD4 cells play a major role in protecting the body from infection.

HIV uses the machinery of the CD4 cells to multiply and spread throughout the body.

GLOSSARY: VIRULENCE
The term refers to the degree — or severity — of infection.

In the virology (study of viruses) of HIV, scientists use different markers of severity. The most widely used marker is the HIV set-point viral load (SPVL), a key predictor of the progression of the Human Immuno Virus.

Virulence is defined in "untreated asymptomatic infection", as the speed of progression from HIV infection to AIDS, by which point CD4+ T-cells are depleted, immunity is exhausted, and disease becomes apparent.

Q: Did anyone warn the world about doing GOF research of flu viruses?

Yes.

Several warnings issued from as early as 2010.

A basic definition by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) states: “Gain-of-function (GOF) research involves experimentation that aims or is expected to (and/or, perhaps, actually does) increase the transmissibility and/or virulence of pathogens (small organisms such as bacteria or viruses that can cause disease).”

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4996883/

At least four public-domain research work, published between 2000 and 2014, had some virology experts already warning about the dangers of such GOF experiments using “unproven techniques”.

Warnings were issued through peer-reviewed papers and published in several journals. In particular, one warning was about the so-called "GOF influenza virus research".

French virologist Dr Simon Wain-Hobson French branded the term “gain-of-function” as “misleading”, with regard to this particular study.

Q: What’s wrong with gain-of-function (GOF) research to achieve “aerosol transmission of avian flu”?

It's "irrational", charged Prof. Wain-Hobson in an article published by the US National Academies Press.

Wain-Hobson and other peers wrote several papers, issuing the same warning, including in the publication Science in 2013.

“There is nothing good to be gained,” Dr Wain-Hobson wrote in 2014.

“Inappropriately named gain-of-function (GOF) influenza research seeks to confer airborne transmission on avian influenza A viruses that otherwise cause only dead-end infections in humans. A recent study has succeeded in doing this with a highly pathogenic ostrich H7N1 virus in a ferret model without loss of virulence,” Wain-Hobson warned.

Three distinguished virologists, however, contradicted Wain-Hobson, considering the benefits of flu GOF work to outweigh potential risks.

Wain-Hobson disagreed: "The underlying science," he pointed out, "is not as strong as it appears.”

There had been at least one scientific conference among hundreds of biotech, epidemiology and virology experts that saw fierce debates on the merits of developing chimeric or "franken-viruses".

Q: Who is Dr Simon Wain-Hobson?

Prof. Wain-Hobson is a molecular retrovirologist who works for the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

Retrovirology is the study of retrovirus, any of a family (Retroviridae) of single-stranded RNA viruses that produce reverse transcriptase by means of which DNA is produced using their RNA as a template and incorporated into the genome of infected cells, that are often tumorigenic. That includes the lentiviruses (such as the HIVs) and the causative agent of Rous sarcoma. Coronavirus is another example of a retrovirus.

Hobson
Prof. Simon Wain-Hobson, molecular retrovirologist works for the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

He's a bit of a renegde. In the past, Dr. Wain-Hobson has argued that industrialised nations should help the Third World more in the fight against HIV/Aids by providing money for public health programs, education and blood screening. He warned doing otherwise would further impoverish the poor nations due to costly therapies.

Considered an expert in the hypermutation of retroviruses, such as HIV-1, Dr Wain-Hobson explained he prefers combining drugs to kill the virus rather than cripple it, as some researchers advocate.

ResearchGate, a European social networking site that allows scientists and researchers to share papers and find collaborators, attributes 240 research works to Wain-Hobson, with 14,244 citations.

Q: What triggered Dr Wain-Hobson's warning?

Dr Wain-Hobson gave a stark warning: “If transposable to humans, this would constitute a novel virus with a case fatality rate ~30 greater than that of Spanish flu.”

"The controversial experiments confer aerosol transmission on avian influenza virus strains that can infect humans, but which are not naturally transmitted between humans. Some of the newer strains are clearly highly pathogenic for man.

"The controversial experiments confer aerosol transmission on avian influenza virus strains that can infect humans, but which are not naturally transmitted between humans. Some of the newer strains are clearly highly pathogenic for man.

"It will be shown here that the benefits of the work are erroneous and overstated while the risk of an accident is finite, if small. The consequence of any accident would be anywhere from a handful of infections to a catastrophic pandemic."

The controversial experiments confer aerosol transmission on avian influenza virus strains that can infect humans, but which are not naturally transmitted between humans. Some of the newer strains are clearly highly pathogenic for man.

- Prof. Simon Wain-Hobson, molecular retrovirologist at the Pasteur Institute, Paris

Q: Who funded those GOF studies?

US and European tax-payers, among others, as well as China.

Dr Wain-Hobson decried this fact: "Despite US and EU government funding, no risk-benefit analysis has been published, which again is surprising. This research can be duplicated readily in many labs and requires little high tech. It falls under the definition of DURC without the slightest shadow of a doubt and constitutes the most important challenge facing contemporary biology."

Dr. Wain-Hobson decried the fact that "there has (only) been a single open international meeting in this period, which is surprising given that openness and discussion are essential to good science."

What is DURC?
It stands for "Dual-Use Research of Concern". In life sciences, it denotes research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied to pose a significant threat with broad potential consequences to public health and safety.

Q: Did anyone listen to Dr Wain-Hobson's warning?

Sort of.

In 2014 the administration of US President Barack Obama called for a “pause” on funding (and relevant research with existing US Government funding) of GOF experiments involving influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses in particular.

With this pause, the US Government also launched a “deliberative process” regarding risks and benefits of GOF research to inform future funding decisions. It tasked the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to make recommendations to the US Government on this matter.

The ban was lifted on December 19 2017, according to Science.

Q: What is the risk of directly infecting humans with a chimera virus?

The same warning, authored by Felix Rey, Olivier Schwartz, Simon Wain-Hobson was also published by the journal Science in October 2013.  They said the risks were "unknown".

DNA gets a new and bigger genetic alphabet
In the 21st century, genetic sequencing and editing — tinkering with the software of life — has become the new frontier of science and business, with both beneficial as well as potentially catastrophic consequences. For illustrative purposes only.

Q: Is SARS-CoV-2, which is causing such deadly run around the world, a chimera virus?

It's hard to say. The jury is still out. It could very well be result of an accident of nature, human error, or an unintended result of a lab work that stretched for years.

Q: Are chimeric viruses used as a bioweapon?

Combining two pathogenic viruses increases the lethality of the new virus. which is why there have been cases where chimeric viruses have been considered a number of times for use as a bioweapon.

For example, the Soviet Union's Chimera Project attempted to combine DNA from Venezuelan equine encephalitis, smallpox and Ebola virus in the late 1980s. A combination smallpox and monkeypox virus has also been studied.

That's the downside.

Q: What's the upside?

On the upside, the 21st century is the so-called "Golden Age" of genetic engineering. It's a sort of a gold rush powered by cheaper, better sequencing technology. Many hope this would help alleviate various types of genetic disorders or cure genetically-triggered diseases.

As the technology has improved exponentially, the cost to sequence a genome has fallen dramatically. For example, the first human genome (declared complete in April 2003) took $2.7 billion and almost 15 years to complete.

Then cost of genome sequencing and analysis started falling drastically around 2008, from about $10 million. Based on data collected from genome-sequencing groups funded by the Maryland-based National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the cost to generate a high-quality 'draft' whole human genome sequence in mid-2015 was just above $4,000; by late in 2015, that figure had fallen below $1,500. In a 2019 report, NHGRI stated that the cost to generate a "whole-exome sequence was generally below $1,000".

Q: Can chimeric viruses be used for medical treatment?

Yes.

Studies have shown that chimeric viruses can also be developed to have medical benefits. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the use of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) to treat relapsed non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

By introducing a chimeric antigen receptor into T cells, the T cells become more efficient at identifying and attacking the tumor cells. Studies are also in progress to create a chimeric vaccine against four types of Dengue virus, however this has not been successful yet.

Q: What is the similarity between the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and the HIV 'exoprotein'?

Researchers have used public-domain genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It was first published by Chinese researchers from the Shanghai lab on January 11. That lab, was shut down on January 12, 2020.

The same genetic sequence, however, was used by researchers in different countries to develop a test kit to identify the virus using a highly-reliable reverse transcription PCR (polymerase chain reaction).

HIV virus
The HIV virus 2: Enveloped, spherical to pleomorphic in shape, 80-100 nm in diameter. Image Credit: https://viralzone.expasy.org/64?outline=all_by_species

Indian researchers have compared the S (spike) Protein sequence between SARS-CoV-2 (or 2019-nCoV, or Wuhan coronavirus), and SARS. What they found is startling: An uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag.

Gag, or group specific antigen, is the major structural protein (of HIV-1 and all other retroviruses) and comprises about 50 per cent of the mass of a viral particle.

The Indians discovered the 2019-nCoV (SARS-CoV-2) had 2 new sequences inserted — all of which can be found in HIV genetic sequences.

This similarity was found through a simple search in GenBank (a genetic sequence database run by the US National Institutes of Health, NIH). The GenBank sequence database is an open-access, annotated collection of all publicly- available nucleotide sequences and their protein translations. It is produced and maintained by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information as part of the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration.)

The supposed HIV genetic insertions on SARS-CoV-2 gene are:

  • Insert 1: TNGTKR
  • Insert 2: HKNNKS
  • Insert 3: RYSL—TPGDSSG
  • Insert 4: QTNSPRRA

Chinese virology expert Dr Shi Zhengli (one of the authors of lab-grown chimera virus mentioned above, published in Nature) reportedly discredited those observations.

However, she did not deny the existence of the four inserted sequences. Scientists who mined GenBank database found only three viruses containing all four inserted sequences.

Exoproteins
Image Credit: Gulf News/Jay Hilotin [Source: https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4915/12/4/360/htm]

Q: The Wuhan coronavirus, does it have HIV genes that make it highly transmissible?

In 2009, Dr. Frank Ruscetti, one of the founders of the field of human retrovirology, and Dr. Judy Anne Mikovits' labs isolated for the first time a new family of human retroviruses then identified as XMRV strongly associated with neuroimmune disease and cancer (a family of pathogenic human retroviruses is now called HGRV).

For her part, Dr. Mikovits has co-authored more than 50 peer reviewed-publications and wrote the book Plague: One Scientist’s Intrepid Search for the Truth about Human Retroviruses and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Autism, and Other Diseases.

Dr. Mikovits told The Epoch Times that an analysis and comparison of the virus of the SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes the COVID-19): “(it) apparently has genes that come from other human and other species including some envelope—the one from HIV."

Q: What is the HIV’s gp41?

Gp41 (transmembrane glycoprotein, composed on 345 amino acids) is known to virologists as a sub-unit of the envelope (or spike) protein complex of retroviruses, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

HIV GP120
Image Credit: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-19922-7_9

Among HIV researchers, this spike made of protein is well-known as the “key” to infecting human cells, resulting in the functional failure of the immune system.

Gp41, on the other hand, is a transmembrane protein that contains several sites within its ectodomain (parts of proteins that initiate contact with surfaces) that are required for infection of, and rapid replication within, host cells.

Among HIV researchers, these gp120 and gp41 has received much attention as a potential target for HIV-zapping vaccines.

Q: Why is the HIV gp120 important for researchers?

HIV is highly transmissible in humans. The functions of both Gp120 and Gp41 had been sliced and diced by virologists for years.

For example, in a breakthrough study in 1990, Philip Berman and colleagues reported in Nature the development of a vaccine based on the HIV glycoprotein gp120, which binds CD4 and chemokine receptors on target cells, but protected lab chimpanzees from HIV-1 infection. The work eventually led to tests of recombinant-gp120-based vaccines in HIV-infected humans.

If the observation by Dr Judy Mikovits is validated, it would mean something damning: the mechanism of infection, or “shedding”, of the deadly coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is quite deadly.

It's now a well understood mechanism in cell biollogy: The key to its virulence is the S Protein (also known as "viral key”), which unlocks the ACE-2 receptor in human lung cells, that results in a deadly infection.

But one research can disprove another, before another one disproves it. One claim can follow another.

Q: What's the takeaway?

The jury is still out on this story. If it's proven that SARS-CoV-2 is indeed a product of franken-virus that tinkered with life at the cellular level, a kind of science for its own sake, or a DURC gone horribly wrong, then the full course of the affliction it has brought upon humanity is indeed "unknown".

Then it would prove that fears which prompted the warnings about its potential pandemic virulence were spot on.

The current picture is pretty murky: Members of the elite scientific community around the world don't always see each other eye to eye. And we all know science can be a force for good or bad — the fire generated by nuclear energy can either power an entire country for years, or toast entire cities in a flash.

In the global viral sweepstakes now emerging, there's a complex web of big egos, big pharma and big powers with conflicting ethos and motives at play.

POSTSCRIPT:

In the 21st century, genetic sequencing and editing — tinkering with the software of life — have become the new playground for scientists and their patrons. It comes with both beneficial and potentially catastrophic outcomes.

Currently, there are five candidate vaccines being tested against COVID-19, with at least 70 others racing against time to beat this unseen foe. Experts say a vaccine may be available as early as September 2020, or sometime in 2021.

When that happens, it would prove once more that the greatest force through time is human inventiveness and adaptability.

Until a COVID-19 antidote (or therapy) is found and proven effective, safe and accessible, the rest of us can only hope and pray for a godsend.