Leading researchers are calling for a real-time investigation into the origin of covid-19.

The letter, organized by Stanford University microbiologist David Relman and University of Washington virologist Jesse Bloom, refers to a recent joint study of covid origins conducted by the World Health Organization and China , concluding that a bat virus may have reached humans. by an intermediary animal and that was a lab accident “At least not likely.”

That conclusion is not scientifically sound, according to the authors of the new letter, since there is no indication of how the virus that first jumped on humans has not been detected and the possibility of a laboratory accident receiving only one visual appearance. Few of the 313 pages of the WHO origin report and its annexes are dedicated to the subject.

Marc Lipsitch, a prominent Harvard University epidemiologist who was among the signatories of the letter, said he has not expressed a view on the origin of the virus to date, choosing instead to focus on improving the design of the studies. in epidemiological and vaccine trials — in part because the debate about lab theory has become increasingly controversial. “I avoid it because I’m busy dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic rather than the origin,” he said. “[But] when the WHO comes out with a report stating a reason on an important topic… it should be said. ”

Some of the signatories to the letter, including Lipsitch and Relman, have previously called for a much more thorough investigation of “gain of function”, in which viruses are genetically modified to make them more contagious. or rot. Experiments to engineer pathogens are also underway at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China’s leading center for the study of bats such as SARS-CoV-2. Some found that covid-19 first appeared in the same town where the lab was found as circumstantial evidence that a laboratory accident could be to blame.

Lipsitch had it before the risk is estimated in a pandemic caused by accidental release from a high-security biolab of between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 per year, and he warned that the proliferation of thousands of labs as a great concern.

Even if Chinese scientists say no such leakage has occurred in this case, the authors of the letter say it can only be imposed through a more independent investigation. “A proper investigation must be transparent, objective, data-driven, with extensive expertise, subject to independent supervision, and responsible management to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest,” they wrote. “Public health agencies and research laboratories must also open their records to the public. Investigators must document the veracity and veracity of the data from which the analyzes were made and the conclusions drawn.”

The chief scientist for this upcoming disease at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Shi Zhengli, said in an email that the letter’s suspicions had not taken place and would damage the world’s ability to respond to pandemics. “It’s definitely not acceptable,” Shi said of the group’s call to look at lab records. “Who can give an evidence that isn’t?”

“It is very sad to read this ‘Letter’ written by these 18 famous scientists.” Shi wrote in his email. ”The hypothesis of a lab leak is based solely on the expertise of a lab that has long been working on coronaviruse bats that are phylogenetically related to SARS-CoV-2. This kind of claim would certainly damage the reputation and motivation of scientists dedicated to working on novel animal viruses that have the potential risk of growing human populations and ultimately weakening people’s ability to prevent. the next pandemic.

Shi Zhengli in a high security laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Chinese virologist said calls from outsiders to check his lab records were “unacceptable.”


The lab’s discussion of the assumption has turned into political mud. In the U.S., it is strongly embraced by Republican lawmakers and conservative media figures, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson. The resulting polarization has had a frightening effect on scientists, some of whom are reluctant to express their own concerns, according to Relman.

“We feel motivated to say anything because science doesn’t live up to what it can do, where it’s a fair and strict and open effort to get a better explanation of something,” he said. “For me, part of the purpose is to create a safe space for other scientists to speak for themselves.”

“Ideally, it’s an unsolicited call for as clear a vision as possible to test as many possible assumptions where there is little data,” said Megan Palmer, a biosecurity expert. at Stanford University without being part of the letter group. “If politics is complicated and the stakes are high, a reminder from eminent experts may be necessary to force careful scrutiny on others.”

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