Virus escaped from a laboratory… Bioterrorism… On the Internet, rumors are flying. But researchers have analyzed the genome of the coronavirus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s naturally occurring.
It appeared in China and is now responsible for a Covid-19 pandemic. More than 70 countries are affected. And the craziest theories are currently circulating on the Internet as to its origin. But researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in the United States are saying it: the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is the product of natural evolution.
The coronavirus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic comes from a natural process
“We compared publicly available data on the genome sequence of CoV-2-SARSS with publicly available data for known coronavirus strains. We have firmly determined that the coronavirus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic is a natural process,” said Kristian Andersen, Professor of Immunology and Microbiology, in a statement from the Scripps Research Institute.
Remember that there are many coronaviruses. They belong to a family of viruses that can cause diseases of varying degrees of severity. A coronavirus had already caused the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that China experienced in 2003. Just like the SARS epidemic that Saudi Arabia had to fight against in 2012.
Shortly after the outbreak began in China, Chinese scientists sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 genome. They made this data available to researchers around the world. Studies quickly revealed human-to-human transmission from a single introduction into the human population.
Characteristics that preclude genetic manipulation
Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute focused on revealing characteristics of the coronavirus. Traits carried by proteins that experts call spicular proteins. More specifically, they focused on the receptor-binding domain (RBD) – a kind of grappling hook that adheres to the walls of human cells – and the cleavage site – a sort of molecular can opener that allows the virus to crack.
According to the researchers, the spicular proteins of SARS-CoV-2 are so effective at binding to human cells that they can only be the result of natural selection. They cannot be the product of genetic engineering.
The overall molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2 supports this conclusion. Its skeleton differs considerably from those of the already known coronaviruses. And researchers are convinced that if someone were to design a new pathogen, they would build it from a backbone known to cause disease.
“The characteristics of the coronavirus rule out laboratory manipulation as a potential origin for CoV-2 SARS,” Andersen insists. This would put an end to any speculation of deliberate genetic engineering manipulation.