Coronavirus News Asia

Epidemic has ‘natural origin’: scientists

While US President Donald Trump has raised China’s ire by alleging the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus may have escaped from a high-security lab in Wuhan, thereby shifting blame from his mishandling of the issue in the United States, a study published in the journal Nature Medicine, offers a purely scientific take.

The analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses came to the conclusion there was no evidence the virus was made in a lab or engineered.

“By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes,” said Kristian Andersen, PhD, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and a corresponding author.

In addition to Andersen, the authors on the research paper, “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” reads like a who’s who of virus experts: Robert F. Garry, of Tulane University; Edward Holmes, of the University of Sydney; Andrew Rambaut, of University of Edinburgh; W. Ian Lipkin, of Columbia University — all top-ranking researchers in their fields.

While coronaviruses are a large family of viruses ranging widely in severity, the first known severe illness caused by a coronavirus emerged with the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in China. A second outbreak of severe illness began in 2012 in Saudi Arabia with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

On December 31 2019, Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) of an outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus, subsequently named SARS-CoV-2.

Shortly after the epidemic began, Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and made the data available to researchers worldwide. Andersen and collaborators used this data to explore the mysterious origins and evolution of SARS-CoV-2.

The scientists analyzed the genetic template for spike proteins — armatures on the outside of the virus that it uses to grab and penetrate the outer walls of human and animal cells, the report said.

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