Hong Kong virologist publishes paper claiming COVID-19 was created in a laboratory

Hong Kong virologist publishes paper claiming COVID-19 was created in a laboratory

In July I wrote about a virologist named Dr. Li-Meng Yan who said she fled her home in Hong Kong in April because Chinese authorities were unhappy with her early work investigating COVID-19. Yesterday, Dr. Yan and three co-authors published a paper with two parts. In the first part the paper claims that COVID-19’s genetic sequence shows clear indications that it was manipulated in a laboratory. The second part of the paper outlines how standard genetic techniques used for gain-of-function research could have created COVID-19 from a largely similar bat coronavirus in just six months time.

The paper, co-authored with two others, is titled “Unusual Features of the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Laboratory Modification Rather Than Natural Evolution and Delineation of Its Probable Synthetic Route.”

It claims to note how “SARS-CoV-2 shows biological characteristics that are inconsistent with a naturally occurring, zoonotic virus.”

Dr. Yan appeared on a British TV show last week (video below) in which she claimed that reports of the virus arising in a wet market in Wuhan were a “smoke screen.” Asked where it comes from if not from the wet market, Dr. Yan replied, “It comes from the lab, the lab in Wuhan. And the lab is controlled by China’s government.” Yan then promised that there would be two reports coming to present scientific evidence for her claim. The paper published yesterday is the first of those.

I’ve read through the paper and while I can’t claim to follow all of it, the basic gist is that Dr. Yan is claiming the main evidence that the virus is naturally occuring comes from the existence of a virus known as RaTG13. However, Dr. Yan alleges that virus may not exist in nature and may itself have been part of a scientific fraud intended to hide the non-natural origin of COVID-19:

The existing scientific publications supporting a natural origin theory rely heavily on a single piece of evidence –a previously discovered bat coronavirus named RaTG13, which shares a 96% nucleotide sequence identity with SARS-CoV-218. However, the existence of RaTG13 in nature and the truthfulness of its reported sequence are being widely questioned 6-9,19-21. It is noteworthy that scientific journals have clearly censored any dissenting opinions that suggest a non-natural origin of SARS-CoV-28,22. Because of this censorship, articles questioning either the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2 or the actual existence of RaTG13, although of high quality scientifically, can only exist as preprints 5-9,19-21 or other non-peer-reviewed articles published on various online platforms 10-13,23. Nonetheless, analyses of these reports have repeatedly pointed to severe problems and a probable fraud associated with the reporting of RaTG13 6,8,9,19-21. Therefore, the theory that fabricated scientific data has been published to mislead the world’s efforts in tracing the origin of SARS-CoV-2 has become substantially convincing and is interlocked with the notion that SARS-CoV-2 is of a non-natural origin.

The paper goes on to say that COVID-19 is substantially similar to two other viruses which had been previously sequenced in China:

When SARS-CoV-2 and ZC45/ZXC21 are compared on the amino acid level, a high sequence identity is observed for most of the proteins. The Nucleocapsid protein is 94% identical. The Membrane protein is 98.6% identical. The S2 portion (2nd half) of the Spike protein is 95% identical. Importantly,the Orf8 protein is 94.2% identical and the E protein is 100% identical.

Orf8 is an accessory protein, the function of which is largely unknown in most coronaviruses, although recent data suggests that Orf8 of SARS-CoV-2 mediates the evasion of host adaptive immunity by downregulating MHC-I24. Normally, Orf8 is poorly conserved in coronaviruses25. Sequence blast indicates that, while the Orf8 proteins of ZC45/ZXC21 share a 94.2% identity with SARS-CoV-2 Orf8, no other coronaviruses share more than 58% identity with SARS-CoV-2 on this particular protein. The very high homology here on the normally poorly conserved Orf8 protein is highly unusual.

The paper also claims there is evidence that something called a receptor-binding motif (RBM), which determines which species the virus can successfully infect, has evidence of lab manipulation:

Strikingly, consistent with the RBM engineering theory, we have identified two unique restriction sites, EcoRI and BstEII, at either end of the RBMof the SARS-CoV-2 genome, respectively (Figure 5A). These two sites, which are popular choices of everyday molecular cloning, do not exist in the rest of this spike gene. This particular setting makes it extremely convenient to swap the RBM within spike, providing a quick way to test different RBMs and the corresponding Spike proteins.

Such EcoRI and BstEII sites do not exist in the spike genes of other β coronaviruses, which strongly indicates that they were unnatural and were specifically introduced into this spike gene of SARS-CoV-2 for the convenience of manipulating the critical RBM. Although ZC45 spike also does not have these two sites (Figure 5B), they can be introduced very easily as described in part 2 of this report.

This is a portion of what the paper alleges. Part two of the paper argues that the manipulations alleged in part one of the paper could have been introduced in an appropriate lab setting withing a period of six months time. In short, this wouldn’t have been terribly difficult to do and China has labs and expertise to do it.

I’ve posted this before, but here’s the counter-argument, i.e. that the virus was not lab-made. I’m sure there will be plenty of commentary on this from other experts in the field. We’ll have to wait and see what they have to say about the credibility of Dr. Yan’s arguments.

All of the authors of the paper are cited on the title page as working with the Rule of Law Society & Rule of Law Foundation in New York. I wasn’t familiar with that group but it’s website states its mission is, “to expose corruption, obstruction, illegality, brutality, false imprisonment, excessive sentencing,harassment, and inhumanity pervasive in the political, legal, business and financial systems of China.”

Finally, here’s the interview of Dr. Yan where she first made this claim last week. Dr. Yan mentions in the latter-half of this interview that the Rule of Law Foundation helped her get out of Hong Kong.

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