Geneticist Vlasov: the theory of laboratory origin SARS-CoV-2 doesn't stand up to scrutiny

Geneticist Vlasov: the theory of laboratory origin SARS-CoV-2 doesn't stand up to scrutiny

27 January , 13:15Science
Geneticist Ivan Vlasov, an employee of the Kurchatov Institute research center, believes that the version of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus created in the laboratory is easily refuted by authoritative scientific research, and gives arguments in favor of this.

Esquire magazine publishes an article by geneticist Ivan Vlasov, who analyzes conspiracy theories around coronavirus and comes to the conclusion that they are easily refuted by scientific data.

The publication of Ivan Vlasov is a reaction to the article The Lab-Leak Hypothesis, which appeared on January 4, 2021 in The New York Magazine, the author of which, the American writer Nicholson Baker, defends the theory of the artificial nature of SARS-Cov- 2.

Here are Ivan Vlasov's objections briefly.

The essence of the article is not directly related to the central thesis, since the author does not provide any evidence in its favor. Baker writes that the theory of the synthetic (artificial) origin of the virus is not a conspiracy theory, but simply a theory that deserves attention. But what is a conspiracy theory? Explaining the event as if it happened at the behest of a group of people who want to manipulate public opinion and can distort information about this event. The peculiarity of a conspiracy theory is that it cannot be refuted - unlike a scientific theory, one of the criteria of which is falsifiability: the theory itself or its consequences must be refuted. According to the principle of falsification, which is the generally accepted scientific standard, the synthetic theory of the origin of SARS-Cov-2 is not scientific.

Baker cites the statements of several scientists in favor of the synthetic nature of the virus. Among them is Dr.Alina Chan, whose summary does not include a single SARS-Cov-2 preprint with arguments in favor of the theory of synthetic origins and not a single article in peer-reviewed (i.e. peer-reviewed) journals that deals with virology. In other words, Dr. Chan does not have published data that would support the synthetic hypothesis of the origin of SARS-Cov-2.

Baker also cites a preprint by South China University of Technology professor Botao Zhao, which was removed from the server shortly after publication in favor of the theory of the laboratory origin of the virus. Upon closer inspection, it is obvious that the preprint is full of irrelevant information, that is, its conclusions are not supported by the arguments presented.

As evidence, a quote from a lecture by Feng Chi-tai, a professor at Taiwan National University, is mentioned that a new insertion of a cleavage site (a section of a protein designed to be cleaved by another protein) into one of the proteins of the virus is unlikely to have arisen naturally, since natural mutations "more sporadic and shorter". Professor Feng later recanted his words, which scientifically do not hold water, and the lecture was deleted.

As a result, Baker does not cite a single published work that speaks in favor of the synthetic hypothesis, and not a single fact in favor of a leak.

As for the theory of natural origin, then in its favor is a collective statement of scientists in the journal The Lancet. This claim is based on seven scientific papers on SARS-Cov-2 published in peer-reviewed journals.

For example, one of the works considers the sequence of the SARS-Cov-2 genome and the mechanisms of its entry into the cell: the authors mention that at the genomic level SARS-Cov-2 is 96% identical in sequence with the RaTG13 bat coronavirus, which uses the same entry mechanism into the cage as SARS-Cov. That is, the new virus has close relatives in animals, and the mechanisms important for its work are common with the previously known coronavirus.

Another paper says that the protein used by the virus to enter the cell, although adapted to penetrate human cells, is not ideal. This suggests that the virus can be transmitted through a wide variety of mammals.

Finally, Andersen's publication, which Baker calls "the most influential work on the theory of the natural origin of the virus," examines the SARS-Cov-2 genome and deduces from it two possible versions of origin: natural selection before the zoonotic jump (transition from animals to humans) and after the zoonotic jump. Andersen notes that a synthetic origin is unlikely, since there are no traces of widely used methods of working with viruses in the genome, and the virus enters human cells using a previously unknown and unused molecular mechanism that occurs in nature.

This is not to say that all these works refute the theory of synthetic origin. Science knows techniques to mimic most of the natural processes of evolution and mutagenesis, and it can be assumed that, if desired, these techniques could be used to create a new virus. But this is nothing more than guesswork.

There are other questions, the answers to which are within the scope of assumptions. For example, if someone wanted to create a new virus, would he try to make it immune to antibodies from the blood of SARS-Cov patients? Or - would he make the virus not ideally suited to penetrate human cells? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The arguments of the proponents of the laboratory scenario are similar reasoning in the spirit of "this is theoretically possible" and "a very suspicious coincidence". There is no scientific evidence for a synthetic origin theory published in peer-reviewed journals.

You can read the entire article by Ivan Vlasov here.

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