Scientists still debate the origin of the coronavirus, but the key point should not be missed: the lies and delays of the Chinese Communist Party prevented the world from containing the epidemic.
by Marco Respinti
On March 17, Bitter Winter reported the strange story of a paper written by two Chinese researchers, Dr. Botao Xiao from South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, and Dr. Lei Xiao, from Wuhan University of Science and Technology, published on the international scholarly database Research Gate, from which it disappeared a few days after having been uploaded. As mentioned in that article, we are not scientists and have no way of assessing the reliability of the research. However, Dr. Botao Xiao is a senior scientist, with more than a dozen papers published in international scholarly publications, and the researchers cannot be suspected of creating anti-Chinese propaganda, since they work for a public university in China.
The two Xiaos claimed that COVID-19 comes indeed from bats but, since there are no wild bats carrying that kind of virus in or around Wuhan, it is more likely that these bats came from one or two Wuhan laboratories, whose activities are shrouded in secrecy.
On March 17, the well-known scientific magazine Nature published an article on the virus, authored by Dr. Kristian G. Andersen, Dr. Andrew Rambaut, Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, Dr. Edward C. Holmes, and Dr. Robert F. Garry. They claimed that “it is improbable” that the virus “emerged through laboratory manipulation,” and it is more likely that it came to humans either through bats or through a different animal, a mammal known as pangolin.
International media, perhaps not without a Chinese input, were quick to advertise the article as “debunking” the “fake news” about a laboratory origin of the virus. Certainly, it did debunk the Chinese fake news about an origin of the virus in American laboratories. The Nature article, on the other hand, was likely written before the Xiaos uploaded their paper on ResearchGate, and does not really contradict it. The Xiaos did not claim that the virus was created on purpose in a Chinese laboratory, but suggested the possibility that the bats that spread it originally came from one of two laboratories operating in the Wuhan area.
On March 20, Alexandre Hassanin, professor at the Institute of Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity of the Sorbonne University in Paris, observed that the virus causing COVID-19 may be “the result of a recombination between two different viruses, one close to RaTG13 and the other closer to the pangolin virus. In other words, it is a chimera between two pre-existing viruses”, whereas RaTG13 is a betacoronavirus, i.e., one of four genres (alpha, beta, delta, gamma) of coronaviruses which descend (like the alphacoronavirus) from the bat gene pool. Betacoronaviruses, Hassanin said, “have been discovered, mainly in bats, but also in humans. For example, RaTG13, isolated from a bat of the species Rhinolophus affinis collected in China’s Yunan Province, has recently been described as very very similar” to the present coronavirus, “with genome sequences identical to 96%.” This is exactly what the Xiaos reported: “Two descriptions of the virus published on Nature this week indicated that the genome sequences from patients were 96% or 89% identical to the Bat CoV ZC45 coronavirus originally found in Rhinolophus affinis.” The Xiaos pointed at two Nature papers, one published by a pool of Chinese colleagues on February 3 and another by another set of Chinese colleagues on the same date.
Nature is of course publishing several papers on the subject, updating researches as new data become available, because this is how science proceeds: empirically, by trial and error. The two key points on which the scientists’ attention focuses are (1) the way of the recombination of two different viruses and (2) the intermediate host which passed the infection to human beings. The recombination mechanism of the two viruses (transmitted respectively by bats’ and pangolins), according to Dr. Hassanin, “had already been described in coronaviruses…. It is important to know that recombination results in a new virus potentially capable of infecting a new host species. For recombination to occur, the two divergent viruses must have infected the same organism simultaneously.” So the question, in Dr. Hassanin’s word, is: “in which organism did this recombination occur? (a bat, a pangolin or another species?) And above all, under which conditions did this recombination take place?”. We don’t know. As Drs. Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao wrote, “[t]here was possible natural recombination or intermediate host of the coronavirus, yet little proof has been reported.”
There is another sentence in Dr. Hassanin’s article worth highlighting: the virus we have to deal with now is “a chimera between two pre-existing viruses.” I am not a virologist nor a medical doctor. I am just a journalist, trying to connect dots and stopping where dots stop. In genetics, a chimera is a single organism composed of cells with more than one distinct DNA. It draws its name from the legendary monster of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman mythologies. It is also curious to remember that in the 2000 movie Mission: Impossible 2 it is the name of a mysterious deadly virus able to destroy everything which fortunately the good guys finally destroy. The Xiaos’ vanished paper used the same expression, it is “a chimeric virus.”
The Nature article suggest that the chimera is the fruit a natural combination. The Xiaos stated that this is possible, but perhaps not likely considering the situation in Wuhan. The question remains: what exactly are the activities of the two laboratories in Wuhan mentioned in the Xiao and Xiao paper? Did the CCP deliberately hide crucial facts on the origin of the virus? Chinese propaganda tried to present the CCP as the solution to the virus emergency, while it was in fact the root cause of the problem, with its cover-ups and delays. As columnist Josh Rogin suggested in a Washington Post article on the disease, we should all call it, rather than the “Chinese virus,” the “CCP virus.” As Rogin wrote, “That’s more accurate and offends only those who deserve it.”