Lab leak or not? How politics shaped the battle over the origin of Covid

Stanford’s Dr. Relman organized the Letter to Science with other prominent colleagues, including Alina Chan, science adviser at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and Jesse Bloom, virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.

In August, Mr. Metzl helped plan a private bipartisan briefing for senators on the lab leak hypothesis, at which Dr. Relman and Dr. Bloom spoke.

“I left the meeting with a much more open mind,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.

As proponents of the lab leak idea made their case to Congress, Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, set out to test these claims. Having once investigated – and helped discredit – a theory that AIDS came from tainted polio vaccines, he believed a lab leak was possible and so he signed the Science letter.

He first pushed the scientific journal Nature, he said, to ask researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology to make available the genetic sequences of previous coronaviruses they had reported in the journal. They did, and soon after, in May 2021, they published a study describing these viruses, none of which were sufficiently related to the pandemic virus for genetic tinkering to have produced.

Next, Dr Worobey analyzed the first known Covid patients, finding that a disproportionate number had worked or visited the market.

Meanwhile, evidence has emerged that live mammals known to spread coronavirus – including raccoon dogs – were sold in the Huanan market before the pandemic. And in September 2021, a report of newly discovered coronaviruses in Lao bats showed natural viruses were able to latch onto human cells.


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