EXCLUSIVE: Corona viruses that have become pandemics around the world may have been made in “cell culture experiments” in laboratories, according to leading scientists who have carried out groundbreaking research on the origins of viruses.
Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky has completed scientific studies, currently undergoing a peer review, together with LaTrobe University in Victoria, who found COVID-19 is uniquely adapted for human transmission, far more than any other animal, including bats.
Professor Petrovsky, from the School of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University who has spent the past 20 years developing vaccines against the influenza pandemic, Ebola and SARS animals, said this very unusual finding opened the possibility that the virus leaked from the laboratory.
“Two possibilities that I think are still open are the possibility of transmitting the virus from animals that have not yet been identified to humans. Another possibility is that it is the accidental release of the virus from the laboratory, “he said.
“Of course we cannot exclude the possibility that this came from laboratory experiments and not from animals. Both are open possibilities. ”
Professor Petrovsky, who is Chair and Research Director of Vaxine Pty Ltd, said COVID-19 has a genetic element similar to the bat corona virus and other corona viruses.
The way a coronavirus enters human cells is by binding to a protein on the surface of lung cells called ACE2. Research shows the virus is bound more closely to humans-ACE2 than the other animals they tested.
“It’s like it was designed to infect humans,” he said.
“One possibility is that the host animal is infected by two corona viruses at the same time and COVID-19 is the offspring of the interaction between the two viruses.
“The same process can occur in a Petri dish. If you have cells in culture and you have human cells in culture that infects viruses, then if there are two viruses in that disk, they can exchange genetic information and you can inadvertently or intentionally make a whole new third virus from that system.
“In other words COVID-19 can be made from recombination events in animal hosts or it can occur in cell culture experiments.”
Professor Petrovsky initially modeled the virus in January to prepare vaccine candidates. He then turned his attention to “exploring what animal species might be involved in human transmission” to understand the origins of viruses – and had “surprising” results when no one was well adapted.
“We found that the COVID-19 virus specifically adapted well to bind to human cells and that was far superior to its ability to bind to the cells of other animal species which is very unusual because usually when viruses adapt well. for animals and then incidentally crossing to humans, normally, you would expect it to have a lower bond to human cells than native animals. We found the opposite so it was a big surprise, “he said.
Scientists around the world, to date, strongly say that the virus is more likely to originate from the wet market and not be made in a laboratory.
Even the United States National Intelligence Office ruled out COVID-19 was made in a laboratory.
Asked why scientists had this view, Professor Petrovsky said the scientists were “trying not to engage in politics” and did not want their research to be negatively affected by tighter laboratory controls.
“We are just trying to base our findings on facts rather than taking certain political positions but sometimes it is clear that alternatives might have unintended consequences,” he said.
“For example, if it turns out that this virus might have arisen because of an accidental lab release that would have an impact on how we do virus research in laboratories around the world that can make doing research more difficult.
“So I think the tendency of virus researchers is to assume that it comes from animals until proven otherwise because it will have little consequence for how we can do future research. The alternative clearly has considerable implications for science and science for viruses, not just the political consequences that we are all aware of. ”
Professor Petrovsky said the investigation must begin immediately, not when the pandemic is over.
“The idea of delaying a pandemic is over, that would be a mistake,” he said.
“I am certainly very much in favor of scientific inquiry. The only aim is to find out how this pandemic is occurring and how we prevent future pandemics … do not have a witch hunt.”
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