When I first heard that a new virus, SARS-CoV-2, was behind an uncontrolled epidemic in China, I assumed it must have been a tragic natural disaster.
In fact, we were soon told that this virus has lived in bats in southern China for decades, if not centuries, and somehow got from bats to another animal, possibly a pangolin (a type of scaly anteater).
The virus then allegedly spread to humans from dead pangolins sold in Wuhan’s wet markets.
An alternative theory, heavily promoted by former US President Donald Trump, was that the virus had escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, where it was either studied or purposely improved to make it human.
There is evidence that something like this has happened before – not on the current scale, despite the fact that more than 700,000 people have died and hundreds of millions have been infected worldwide. I was one of his victims
This “laboratory leak” claim has been widely dismissed as a baseless conspiracy theory and “insane,” according to a virologist I spoke to in March 2020. . . completely impossible ‘.
How times change. The “impossible” laboratory leak theory is now being taken seriously, not least because, despite a year of hectic search, we still have no real evidence that SARS-CoV-2 jumped to humans via an intermediate species of bats. Without this, the claim that Covid-19 arose “naturally” remains unproven.
In addition, US intelligence agencies are now saying, as has been widely reported, that three laboratory workers in Wuhan fell ill and were hospitalized with some kind of Covid-19 as early as November 2019.
The Chinese have angrily denied this, but President Joe Biden has told his ghosts that they have 90 days to try to confirm or deny the laboratory leak theory.
But why would anyone in Wuhan or anywhere else have coronavirus manipulation? The irony is that they may have done it to prevent a future outbreak.
For years, scientists have carried out experiments in laboratories in which they consciously try to make malicious, infectious microbes even more contagious or deadly.
It is known as gain-of-function research and is done so that scientists can find out beforehand which viruses are likely to cause pandemics and find ways to prevent them.
The virus then allegedly spread to humans from dead pangolins sold in Wuhan’s wet markets. An alternative theory, heavily promoted by former US President Donald Trump, was that the virus had escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, where it was either studied or purposely improved to make it human
No serious scientist claims that SARS-CoV-2 was created, built from scratch, or intentionally released as a bio-weapon.
The more sensible proponents of the laboratory leak theory instead suggest that it could have been created by gain-of-function research conducted in a Chinese laboratory followed by an accidental release, which all too often of so-called “biosafe” “Laboratories around the world.
While there is still no hard evidence to support this theory, there is some evidence: two months ago researchers from leading universities in Australia, Austria, Spain and the United States published an article in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters suggesting that the Das SARS-CoV-2 virus has “several special properties” that made it “remarkably well adapted to humans” from the start, while it was poorly adapted to the bats it is said to have come from.
They speculated that these changes could have been brought about by someone doing gain-of-function research in a laboratory.
Another paper (titled “The Evidence Indicating It Is Not a Naturally Developed Virus”), written by scientists from the UK and Denmark but not yet published, also claims that this virus is Has “puzzling features” that make it so contagious.
I saw an early draft of this paper listing studies by Wuhan researchers showing that they are doing gain-of-function research.
That includes one in 2015, conducted by an American-Chinese team that used bat virus to create a mouse virus that could attach to and grow on human cells.
The more sensible proponents of the laboratory leak theory instead suggest that it could have been created by gain-of-function research conducted in a Chinese laboratory followed by an accidental release, which all too often of so-called “biosafe” “Laboratories around the world
So the technology to turn a harmless bat virus into something more dangerous certainly exists, but could it have led to SARS-CoV-2? Professor Robin Shattock, a leading vaccine researcher from Imperial College London, is skeptical.
He believes a theory of natural origin is much more likely, and those in favor of the “laboratory leak” underestimate the power of natural selection.
“The theoretical possibility that this could have been generated in a laboratory doesn’t make this a likely scenario,” he told me. I tend to agree; a man-made pandemic still sounds suspiciously like something out of a science fiction movie.
On the flip side, there is evidence that something like this has happened before – not on the current scale, despite the fact that more than 700,000 people have died and hundreds of millions have been infected worldwide. I was one of their victims.
This pandemic, which is now widely believed to be man-made, was dubbed “Russian Flu” because the first cases were reported in Russia.
It swept the world in 1977 – at the time I was studying at Oxford University and, like many of my contemporaries, fell ill with a comparatively mild flu-like illness.
I know for sure it was Russian flu because a few years ago I had my blood tested for a documentary about pandemic influenza – when my antibodies were compared to a huge database of pandemics from the past 70 years, it showed it was me have been exposed to a number of these pandemics, including the 1977 Russian flu.
The strange thing about this particular pandemic is that it mostly affected people under the age of 26. When the scientists looked at the genome of the flu virus that had caused them, they noticed something else very strange: the virus was almost identical to a flu virus that had taken over the world in the early 1950s.
This explained why relatively few people over the age of 26 contracted Russian flu because many of them had protective antibodies against this virus decades earlier.
But the fact that the 1977 virus was almost identical to the previous virus is very surprising.
That really shouldn’t be happening. It is extremely unlikely that a flu virus, left to its own devices, could have hung around virtually unchanged for decades before making another decision to infect people.
A more plausible explanation is that the 1977 virus was a direct descendant of the 1950s version that was frozen, possibly tampered with, and then escaped or released.
In 2015, researchers from the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University in the United States examined this outbreak in detail and published a fascinating paper that concluded that there is evidence that the 1977 virus was tampered with and that the outbreak was the Russian flu was likely the result of a lab leak or a failed secret vaccination campaign.
They added that we probably will never know for sure. I suspect that this will also apply to Covid.
What worries me is that, fearing another outbreak, many laboratories around the world are being set up to research dangerous new viruses.
It is vital that these laboratories operate in a manner that allows for control and accountability. Or we risk serious future bio-leaks.
Bottom up! How beer can make your BBQ healthier
Finally the sun is shining and I hope that I will soon be able to enjoy summer barbecues again. I love the whole show: having friends with you, lighting the charcoal, cooking.
But everything starts with the right marinade – for the taste, but also to tenderize the meat. I think salt is a mistake as it just dries out the meat.
Other popular options, like lemon juice or red wine, can make it more tender, but if you let them sit too long, the acid will bind the proteins in the meat, making it tougher. I prefer yogurt – because of the taste, but also because it contains calcium, which can tenderize meat (for a spicy marinade, add a teaspoon of chili powder, a tablespoon of ground coriander, and a tablespoon of ground cumin to a small saucepan of plain yogurt).
Or you can try beer. One of the benefits of marinating meat in dark beer is to prevent the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), harmful compounds related to colon cancer that form when meat is exposed to high heat.
A 2014 experiment published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that marinating pork in dark ale reduced PAH levels by more than half.