Science

Lab Leak or Zoonotic Transfer? Leading Biologists Review COVID-19 Virus Origin Evidence


Amid debate around the origins of SARS-CoV-2, leading global biologists have reviewed the scientific evidence to help clarify the origin of the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

  • Pre-print paper highlights links supporting zoonotic origin for the virus
  • Zero biological evidence exists for a laboratory leak
  • Focus on lab-leak distracting from work to prevent next pandemic

An international team of eminent biologists, led by Professor Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney and Professor Andrew Rambaut from the University of Edinburgh, has published a critical review paper on the origins of SARS-COV-2 as a pre-print on Zenodo.

The paper summarises and reviews the existing scientific evidence for the origin of the virus, which causes COVID-19 in humans, concluding that overwhelmingly its most likely origin is zoonotic – a transfer from an animal source to human infection. While the authors say that a laboratory accident “cannot be entirely dismissed” they emphasize that there currently exists zero evidence for such a laboratory origin.

Edward Holmes

Professor Edward Holmes. Credit: University of Sydney

Professor Holmes said: “Our careful and critical analysis of the currently available data provided no evidence for the idea that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a laboratory.”

The review paper says: “There is no evidence that any early cases had any connection to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), in contrast to the clear epidemiological links to animal markets in Wuhan, nor evidence that the WIV possessed or worked on a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 prior to the pandemic.”

Rather, it argues that “there is substantial body of scientific evidence supporting a zoonotic origin for SARS-CoV-2.”

The 21 eminent scientists from universities and research institutes around the world warn that a focus on a highly improbable lab origin is distracting from the most urgent scientific tasks to “comprehensively investigate the zoonotic origin through collaborative and carefully coordinated studies.”

The authors warn that without a focus on this line of enquiry, the world will be “vulnerable to future pandemics” arising from new viruses.

Reference: “The Origins of SARS-CoV-2: A Critical Review” by Holmes, Edward C; Goldstein, Stephen A; Rasmussen, Angela L; Robertson, David L; Crits-Christoph, Alexander; Wertheim, Joel O; Anthony, Simon J; Barclay, Wendy S; Boni, Maciej F; Doherty, Peter C; Farrar, Jeremy; Geoghegan, Jemma L; Jiang, Xiaowei; Leibowitz, Julian L; Neil, Stuart J D; Skern, Tim; Weiss, Susan R; Worobey, Michael; Andersen, Kristian G; Garry, Robert F; Rambaut, Andrew, 7 July 2021, Zenodo.
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.5075888

As well as the University of Sydney and University of Edinburgh the affiliations of the 21 authors include the University of Utah (US), University of Saskatchewan (Canada), University of Glasgow (UK), University of California Berkeley (US), University of California San Diego (US), University of California Davis (US), Imperial College London (UK), Pennsylvania State University (US), the University of Melbourne at the Doherty Institute (Australia), The Wellcome Trust (UK), University of Otago (New Zealand), Jiaotong-Liverpool University (China), Texas A&M University (US), King’s College London at Guy’s Hospital (UK), Medical University of Vienna (Austria), University of Pennsylvania (US), University of Arizona (US), Scripps Research Institute (US), Tulane University (US), Zalgen Labs (US).

The pre-print paper will be submitted to a leading journal for peer review and publication.





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