Perhaps Covid arose through lab leak of tweaked bat Coronavirus

When I first read of Covid originating near a lab conducting experiments with viruses, I thought just coincidence. Since then, I’ve come to believe in lab origin – and that scientists had sought coronaviruses from bats, brought them to Wuhan for study, even conducted experiments, changing them somewhat, perhaps in ways that made them more transmissible in humans.

Not a certainty; the origins of Covid are hard to discern, with much smoke and mirrors. But, can’t be ruled out, despite efforts to do so.

Here, a few bits n pieces related to this issue.

15 March 2022: Time to Stop Debating, Really Investigate Possibility of a Lab Leak

don’t take my word that the debate over the possibility of a lab leak is now settled. In February 2020, soon after COVD-19 began spreading around the world, Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance orchestrated a letter signed on to by 26 other scientist, published in The Lancet, “to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

But in an interview with The Intercept published late last week, Daszak offered a quite different opinion, “Do I agree that it’s possible that Covid-19 emerged through a lab leak? Of course.”

The debate over the possibility of a lab leak is now over. Let’s now focus on appropriately exploring that possibility.

Debate over the possibility of a COVID-19 lab leak is over

“You end up with a small number of viruses that really do look like killers

In 2016, the above-mentioned Peter Daszak was a panellist in a forum on emerging infectious diseases and the next pandemic. He spoke of work with Chinese colleagues, including:

WE FOUND VIRUSES IN BATS. SOME OF THEM LOOKED VERY SIMILAR TO SARS. WE SEQUENCED THE SPINE PROTEIN, THE PROTEIN THAT ATTACHES TO CELLS, AND THEN YOU
CREATE PSEUDO-PARTICLES, INSERT PROTEINS FROM THE VIRUSES THAT COMBINED TO HUMAN CELLS. EACH STEP OF THIS, YOU MOVE CLOSER AND CLOSER TO COULD THE VIRUS BECOME PATHOGENIC IN PEOPLE?

YOU NARROW DOWN THE FIELD. YOU REDUCE THE COST, AND END UP WITH A SMALL NUMBER OF VIRUSES THAT REALLY DO LOOK LIKE KILLERS.

Peter Daszak (from text created from closed captions)
Peter Daszak on creating viruses that look like killers Feb 2016

Daszak was sitting next to science journalist Amy Maxmen, who also spoke during the forum. Yet not only did she seem unperturbed by this, not figuring “Whoah, what a story!” as I might have done [instead, has been among those ridiculing idea of lab leak, and not – to my knowledge – mentioning this from Daszak], she later denied having ever met Daszak, which she had to quickly reverse when photos and video from this meeting quickly surfaced. She has sided with those downplaying lab leak idea.

Scientist journalists too chummy with some researchers?

After I mentioned re Amy Maxmen above. Jon Cohen of Science mag has pooh-poohed lab leak notions; I’ve seen him refer to Fauci as “Tony” as if they’re best mates, to me indicating none too objective. Carl Zimmer lately wrote of research supposedly supporting “wild” animal market origin for NY Times; not really great evidence used for the studies he reported on tho.

Nicholas Wade, a former NY Times science editor – and lab leak proponent, has written an article – Journalists, or PR Agents? Why science reporters don’t report fairly on the origins of Covid-19 – on the links between sci journalists and some scientists, leading to lack of objectivity. He concludes:

Science writers need to decide whether their duty lies to their readers or to their sources. One choice makes them real journalists, the other just unaccredited PR agents for the scientific community.

Nicholas Wade

What If?

For me, the key article in persuading me re lab leak was in New York Magazine, by Nicholas Baker, titled: The Lab-Leak Hypothesis. In his conclusion:

For more than 15 years, coronavirologists strove to prove that the threat of SARS was ever present and must be defended against, and they proved it by showing how they could doctor the viruses they stored in order to force them to jump species and go directly from bats to humans. More and more bat viruses came in from the field teams, and they were sequenced and synthesized and “rewired,” to use a term that Baric likes. In this international potluck supper of genetic cookery, hundreds of new variant diseases were invented and stored. And then one day, perhaps, somebody messed up. It’s at least a reasonable, “parsimonious” explanation of what might have happened.

Nicholas Baker

Prior warnings of lab leak of potential pandemic virus

Lab leaks have happened before – including anthrax from a Russian lab; and some scientists have warned about changing potentially dangerous viruses in ways that could make them more infections/dangerous in humans; as per research that apparently took place in Wuhan. From an article in Scientific American in Dec 2019:

The federal government announced on Tuesday that it is lifting a three-year moratorium on funding controversial research that involves genetically altering viruses in ways that could make them more contagious, more deadly, or both—and that critics say risks triggering a catastrophic pandemic.

Called gain-of-function experiments, the studies aim to understand genetic changes that can make viruses such as bird flu, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) more transmissible from person to person. But if they escaped from the lab, perhaps through human error, the modified viruses could in theory spread quickly or be extremely virulent, increasing the toll of an outbreak.

Controversial, High-Risk Virus Research

Shenanigans re genetic detective work; more about Daszak

Katherine Eban has done some strong reporting on lab leak issue for Vanity Fair, which on 31 March 2022 published a long article by her on some odd goings-on about a preprint on some data from China related to origins of Covid going missing; plenty more info, including on Peter Daszak and his organisation, along with info that to me is very informative re his moral compass. From the article, which is well worth reading:

On June 18, 2021, an evolutionary biologist named Jesse D. Bloom sent the draft of an unpublished scientific paper he’d written to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president of the United States.

Andersen [another evolutionary biologist] made a suggestion that surprised Bloom. He said he was a screener at the preprint server, which gave him access to papers that weren’t yet public. He then offered to either entirely delete the preprint or revise it “in a way that would leave no record that this had been done.” Bloom refused

In 2014, Fauci’s agency had issued a $3.7 million grant to EcoHealth Alliance, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to predicting and helping to prevent the next pandemic by identifying viruses that could leap from wildlife to humans. The grant, titled Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence, proposed to screen wild and captive bats in China, analyze sequences in the laboratory to gauge the risk of bat viruses infecting humans, and build predictive models to examine future risk. The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was a key collaborator to whom EcoHealth Alliance gave almost $600,000 in sub-awards. But the work there had been controversial enough that the NIH suspended the grant in July 2020.


For years, [EcoHealth founder] Peter Daszak sat at the helm of a struggling nonprofit with a mission to save manatees, promote responsible pet ownership, and celebrate threatened species. The organization, which operated under the name Wildlife Trust until 2010, was constantly on the hunt for ways to close its budget shortfalls. One year, it proposed to honor at its annual benefit a mining company operating in Liberia that was paying it to assess the risks of Ebola virus. Another idea was to seek donations from palm-oil millionaires leveling rainforests who might be interested in “cleaning up” their image.

The grant application proposed to collect bat samples from caves in Yunnan Province, transport them to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, extract and manipulate the viruses they contain, and use them to infect mice with humanized lungs….

By almost any definition, this was gain-of-function research. 

“This Shouldn’t Happen”: Inside the Virus-Hunting Nonprofit at the Center of the Lab-Leak Controversy

On Twitter, Jesse Bloom has posted a thread with additional context to this article. Includes his comment that, “It’s unusual to have contentious weekend meetings about not-yet-posted preprints involving NIH, NIAID & NCBI directors.” Also:

In my mind, above facts reinforce a conclusion of my paper: we need to worry about data completeness as much as phylogenetic methodology. No analysis method can be confidently correct if Chinese govt isn’t allowing sharing of complete data

Bloom Lab

Lab leaks do happen

There’s a fine article by Wendy Orent on lab leaks; including:

A veil of secrecy seems to surround virtually all investigations of leaks involving dangerous pathogens. It’s confounding and troubling to realize that before the public learns anything like the truth, investigators and journalists often, if not always, have to tear away veils of obfuscation and sometimes outright duplicity. This duplicity can range from the open lying and stonewalling of the Soviet government to the self-protective, natural desire scientists may have to escape blame and protect themselves and their coworkers from charges of malfeasance.

The Murky History of Lab Leaks

All very good I believe, till reaching Covid, with conclusion this is from a market not lab leak; citing as “proof” a paper that doesn’t really prove it, and based on data that may not be too reliable data. I replied to tweet on this, inc “Lots of evidence re lab leak for covid. No proof. No proof re market origin Only evidence”

To which Wendy replied: “There’s no actual evidence for the lab leak theory, Martin. Lots of evidence for market origin. Including evolutionary logic. That’s just how it rolls.”

I’ve responded further, including:

Lots of evidence: coronaviruses collected, experimented on. Odd goings on w obfuscations. Tweaking viruses to see if could infect humans better; evolution boosted
Jump from unknown, somewhere; within city far from bat caves but right by labs. not how logic rolls

twitter thread

More from Wendy, in tweets:

And that is total rot. Since no one knows the genetics behind human transmissibility, no one can make it in a laboratory. The ACE2 receptor business is a TINY part of transmissibility.

You might want to read my piece in Undark where I discuss the actual evolutionary logic behind my argument. Or you may not – up to you. Because there is no way to make a human-transmissible virus in a laboratory. It takes humans.

Well, I’ve read a piece in UndarkWhy I Still Believe Covid-19 Could Not Have Originated in a Lab – which is perhaps what Wendy refers to; but don’t see this as conclusive. My responses, firsly:

So, serial passage in humanized mice couldn’t have done much of this? Or coronaviruses in swine? Had to be animals in a [mostly] seafood market? Daszak wrong re coming up with viruses that look like killers; just talking rot?

Serial passage has been suggested – inc “humanized mice”, with lung cells much as in humans – as a way Covid could have been created, such as paper including:

Taken together, the available evidence does not point definitively toward a natural origin for SARS‐CoV‐2, rather, much of it is more consistent with what would be found if the novel coronavirus had arisen from serial passage of a “precursor” progenitor virus in a lab, or from bats infecting a commercial mink farm somewhere in China, which would also provide the conditions for serial passage. However, more evidence is required before a conclusive judgement can be made one way or the other.

Might SARS‐CoV‐2 Have Arisen via Serial Passage through an Animal Host or Cell Culture?

I also added:

And people like Marc Lipsitch were fools then, for warning of dangers of gain of function research – as it was impossible these could create viruses that are dangerous in humans?

Here, say, is quote from an interview Lipsitch gave in 2018:

For instance, some of this so-called “gain-of-function” research—which aims to make germs more contagious, more deadly, or both—has aimed to create viruses that can easily pass between ferrets, so that researchers can understand how those changes occur and potentially how viruses go from infecting animals in the wild to transmitting between humans.

But others, like myself, worry that human error could lead to the accidental release of a virus that has been enhanced in the lab so that it is more deadly or more contagious than it already is. 

Ban on deadly pathogen research lifts, but controversy remains

And on we went; with Wendy remarking “The lab leak theory is otiose (as well as odious).” She also added, “And for Gd’s sake think about SARS-1, which no lab leaker ever does.” – which I readily showed was false with quote, “palm civets sold at a local market were, within weeks, identified as an intermediate host” – by “lab leaker” Yuri Deigin in Thunder Out of China; not at all the only mention I’ve seen.
I added quote, “”tissue samples from the market’s animals have revealed no trace of the virus” from an article on Live Science, The coronavirus didn’t really start at that Wuhan ‘wet market’. Response: “Obviously not. This is the silliest point anyone has raised yet. The animals had all been moved, sold, killed, whatever (as was document). Traces of the virus were found in their abandoned cages. Do you know what, Martin? I am done talking about this.” Well, I also cited an article saying, “no virus was detected in the animal swabs covering 18 species of animals in the market” – from a preprint, Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in the environment and animal samples of the Huanan Seafood Market.
Well, that’s the end of that chat. Surely nothing conclusive; to me seems odd Wendy utterly unconcerned by things like Wuhan lab[s] collecting and experimenting on bat coronaviruses, the shenanigans re data etc; and not even certain finding of bat coronaviruses in market animals far from known bat caves; nor re making error like “lab leakers” not mentioning SARS1 and animal markets, while citing Worobey et al papers as “proof” of market origin when this is not so.

References to check out

The US Right to Know website has an extensive, updated list of links to articles etc on the lab leak hypothesis: Key articles on origins of Covid-19, gain-of-function research and biolabs.

So too D.R.A.S.T.I.C.Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19.

Did the SARS-CoV-2 virus arise from a bat coronavirus research program in a Chinese laboratory? Very possibly. on Bulletin of Atomic Scientists website, from June 2020, has quite a bit of info.

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