As evidence mounts for the COVID-19 lab-leak theory, Indian scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi were reportedly the first to have flagged about its possibility.
Reportedly, a 22-page research paper written by a team of biologists, released as a pre-print on bioRxiv, pointed towards the lab-leak theory. The paper suggested an “uncanny similarity” between aspects of SARS-CoV-2 and HIV, MIT Technology Review reported.
The team found four unique inserts in the novel coronavirus glycoprotein as they inspected the protein structure of the virus. The inserts are critical for the virus to identify and latch onto their host cells in humans and then multiply, media reports say.
Apparently, it was the first scientific study signalling the possibility of the virus being engineered.
However, the paper had to be withdrawn after a barrage of criticism.
Proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favour natural emergence, said Nicholas Wade, a science writer.
Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Wade said, “For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer. Wuhan is home to China’s leading center of coronavirus research where, as noted above, researchers were genetically engineering bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. They were doing so under the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 lab. If a virus with the unexpected infectiousness of SARS2 had been generated there, its escape would be no surprise”.
“It is clear that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was systematically constructing novel chimeric coronaviruses and was assessing their ability to infect human cells and human-ACE2-expressing mice,” says Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and leading expert on biosafety.
Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady,” mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses, Wade said.
Various scientists and experts have piled up circumstantial evidence pointing to the theory that the coronavirus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has also recently ordered the intelligent community to re-double efforts to examine how the virus originated, including the lab accident theory.
The European Union, the UK, Australia, and Japan also have joined the US in seeking a deeper probe into the origins of the pandemic.
China’s Foreign Ministry has last week dismissed the Wuhan lab leak theory as “extremely impossible” and have accused the US of “political manipulation”, media reports noted.
(With IANS inputs)