By Randolph Fillmore
There is a subtext to the COVID-19 pandemic that is not making it to mainstream news. It’s a discussion over whether the virus could be a genetically modified Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, manufactured through human hands. Is the virus an experiment that “escaped” from a lab? Was it released by accident? Purposely weaponized? A natural emergence? To weigh these possibilities, it is important to look at where we are with genetic engineering by human hands and intellect, especially through the gene editing technology known as “CRISPR,” or other technology. It is also necessary to hear the voices that say this is a new, but wholly natural SARS virus, with no traces of human engineering.
Where to start?
Some may consider the idea that COVID-19 was manufactured and weaponized a “conspiracy theory.” First, a little “weed pulling.” There is no such thing as a conspiracy “theory.” Problem # 1, the media and general public don’t recognize the difference between theory and hypothesis.
In science, a hypothesis is a generalized idea, a guess, about what might be going on in any phenomena. A theory is a statement of fact that emerges when hypotheses are tested many times over and found to be valid. So, any notion that COVID-19 was made by humans and released as a weapon is a “conspiracy hypothesis,” not a theory.
That there was more than one gunman involved in the assassination of President Kennedy is a hypothesis. It has been tested but, for the lack of valid evidence the results have not led to a second gunman “theory.” Another hypothesis, and a popular one, is that aliens from outer space came to earth in the distant past to teach our ancients important things about science and engineering. It is a hypothesis that, for lack of evidence through testing, has not and will probably never rise to the level of being a theory (except perhaps to some viewers of the History Channel).
An example of theories are Newton’s well-tested ideas about gravity (easy to test) and Darwin’s concept of natural selection, a theory which is successfully underpinning modern biology and is clearly evident every time bacteria becomes drug resistant. A theory is not a weak idea, it is established fact. Theories can, however, be overturned when new hypotheses with new variables are well tested, verified and found to be valid.
The hypothesis that SARS-Cov2 was created by human hands using gene modification tools
“Genetic engineering” is advanced technology that can be a valuable tool in medicine to alter the genetic makeup of plants and animals. Genetic engineering, genetic modification or genetic manipulation, is the direct manipulation of an organism's genes using biotechnology, which is a set of technologies. Biotechnology can be used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or new organisms. New DNA is obtained by either isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using recombinant DNA methods, or by artificially synthesizing DNA that contains genetic information.
Gene editing is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in the genome of a living organism. Unlike early genetic engineering techniques that randomly insert genetic material into a host genome, genome editing targets the insertions to site specific locations.
One such gene ‘editing” technology is "clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats," CRISPR for short. CRISPR allows the cell's genetic material to be cut at a desired location, allowing existing genes to be removed and/or new ones added.
There is speculation that SARS-Cov2 and resulting COVID-19 disease originated with biotechnological efforts to manipulate a strain of SARS (corona) virus and accidently, or purposely, gave us COVID-19. The argument goes that the virus resulting from these efforts was either released from labs by accident, or that the creation and release of the new virus was weaponized and intentionally released. The structure of today’s SARS virus is different from other SARS viruses in that it is more contagious and more easily attached to human proteins and breaks into cells more easily with its “spike proteins,” the little growths that look like golf tees rooted in a golf ball. These differences have raised suspicions.
A virologist in Taiwan is a believer
Professor Fang Cho-tai from the National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health stated that the research laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology houses many deadly viruses for study. Among them is a SARS virus once active in Asia. At a recent conference, he said that the SARS strain causing COVID-19 is 96 % similar to the bat virus RaRG13, a virus he says is kept in the Wuhan lab. He added that the virus had to be 99% similar to be considered the same. Fang also said that French scientists said the key difference between SARS-Cov2 and RaTG13 is four additional amino acids (proteins) in SARS-Cov2. He suggested that these additional amino acids make the virus more contagious and that these additions are unlikely “natural,” but were theoretically possible through some gene-modifying biotechnology application.
However, a Taiwanese American professor, Chin Lin, said at the same conference that the four additional amino acids in SARS-Cov2 are not unusual and noted that the idea that the United States created the virus was “propaganda.”
What is the scientific argument against the human-made SARS/COVID-19 hypothesis?
In the National Institutes of Health (NIH) director’s blog published on March 26, Francis Collins, one of the scientists who cracked the human genome some years back, debunked the weaponized, human-made virus hypothesis by citing research carried out by Kristian Andersen, of Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California and Robert Garry, of Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and published in the journal Nature Medicine on March 17. His comment was that the researchers said this provides “strong evidence that the new virus was not the product of purposeful manipulation in a lab. In fact, any bioengineer trying to design a coronavirus that threatened human health probably would never have chosen this particular conformation for a spike protein.”
It is interesting and useful to read the comments added at the bottom of the director’s blog. Unfortunately, we do not know the credentials of those who disagree with Collins and the research he cites.
The Society for Risk Analysis
The Society for Risk Analysis publishes a risk analysis guide adaptable to infectious disease events and it is relevant for analyzing COVID-19 to help determine whether the outbreak was natural or man-made. The analysis chart, called the Grunow-Finke Assessment Tool, lists 11 criteria that can be applied to any biological outbreak. The 11 criteria are “weighted,” and a score needs to be over 30 points of a possible 60 to suggest terrorism. For convenience sake, each of the 11 is worth six points.
The GFT list of 11 criteria for determining if an outbreak is of unnatural origin is below. The criteria are as follows. Each criterion that could(based on what we have seen) apply to COVID-19 appears in bold type.
1. Existence of a biological risk: The presence of a political or terrorist environment from which a biological attack could originate.
2. Unusual strain: In unnatural outbreaks, the strains may be atypical, rare, antiquated, new emerging, with mutations or different origins, genetically edited created by synthetic biotechnology. It may demonstrate increased virulence, unusual environmental sustainability, resistance to prophylactic and therapeutic measures, or difficulty in detection and identification.
3. Special aspects of the biological agent: It cannot be ruled out that a biological agent has been genetically manipulated.
4. Peculiarities of the geographic distribution of disease: It would be unusual from an epidemiological perspective if the disease is identified in a specific region, either for the first time ever, or again, after a long period of time.
5. High concentration of the biological agent in the environment: If a biological agent is released artificially, we can expect to find it in unusually high concentrations in the air, soil and drinking or surface water over a large area.
6. Peculiarities of the intensity and dynamics of the epidemic: Characterized by the percentage of cases of a disease per unit of time or the total number of cases.
7. Peculiarities of the transmission mode of the biological agent: In general, natural epidemics will feature paths of transmission which are typical for the pathogen and its natural hosts, deviations from the natural paths of infection could indicate that biological agents have been deliberately disseminated.
8. Peculiarities of the time of the epidemic: Epidemics of certain infectious diseases occur in increased numbers during certain seasons, either because they are dependent on the weather, or they occur after certain intervals in time.
9. Unusually rapid spread of the epidemic: The speed at which some epidemics spread is determined by the virulence, resistance and concentration of the pathogen, the contagiousness of the disease and the intensity of the transmission process, on the one hand, and on the susceptibility and disposition of the exposed population on the other.
10. Limitation of the epidemic to a specific population: Biological attacks can be directed against large heterogeneous population groups and military contingents or against selected target groups.
11. Special insights: Any suspicious circumstances identified prior to the outbreak, during the period of outbreak or post-outbreak, which would point to an unnatural outbreak.
Of the 11 criteria, only four seem to fit: 4x6=24. A score above 30 might make the outbreak look suspicious.
It may never be determined whether the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a natural or human-made corona virus. At this point in the pandemic’s history all efforts are being made to help stop the virus from spreading and to help those who are sick or dying from it. History and future research will likely expose one truth or another truth; what is important now is to gather facts – real facts, not alternative facts – as to its origins.