However, an obvious problem with the laboratory leak theory is that it still has no concrete evidence. Chen has no particular opinion on how the accident happened—for example, a student fell ill in a bat cave, or a secret study of infecting mice with a new virus went wrong. After reading Chan’s post, I noticed that many of her claims have nothing to do with direct evidence at all. More often, they revolved around its absence. She tends to point out things that Chinese researchers didn’t do or say, important facts they didn’t reveal quickly, infected market animals they never found, or databases that are no longer online. She explicitly hinted that there was a cover-up-therefore, it was a conspiracy to conceal the truth.


When leading scientists gathered to analyze the viral genome in February last year, they finally published two letters.One, in Lancet, Completely dismissed the possibility of laboratory accidents as a “conspiracy theory” (the author included a scientist who funded research in the Wuhan laboratory). the other is”Proximal origin“Letter in Natural Medicine, co-authored by Christian Anderson, an evolutionary biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Andersen and his co-authors studied the genome of the virus and sorted out why it is likely to be The argument of spontaneous occurrence-there is evidence that it is similar to other viruses found in nature.

The 30,000 genetic letters in the genome are still the most widely studied clues to the origin of the virus. Coronaviruses often exchange parts-a phenomenon called recombination. Andersen discovered that all the components of the virus have been found in samples collected from animals over the years. He believed that evolution could have produced it. The Wuhan Research Institute has been genetically engineering bat viruses for scientific experiments, but the SARS-CoV-2 genome does not match any of the most popular “chassis” viruses used in these experiments and does not contain any other obvious engineering sign.

According to analyst firm Clarivate, the Nature Medicine letter is the 55th most cited article in 2020, and has been cited more than 1,300 times in the journals tracked. Subsequent email records show that starting from January 2020, this letter has been an emergency, high-level information and phone call between the author of this letter and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci (Anthony Fauci). The theme of the conference; top virologists; and the head of the Wellcome Trust, a major drug research funding organization in the UK. Earlier, the authors worried that the virus looked suspicious, and then quickly reached a conclusion around scientific analysis supporting natural causes. Initially, one of their goals was to eliminate rumors that the virus was the result of biological weapons or engineering errors, but they eventually went further, writing: “We don’t think any type of laboratory-based scenario is reasonable. “

Chen worked at his home in Massachusetts and quickly revived the laboratory accident theory by looking for differences with SARS, which is a similar virus that broke out in 2002 but only caused about 8,000 diseases. Chan and Shing Zhan, a bioinformatics expert at the University of British Columbia, studied early human COVID cases and found that the new virus does not mutate as fast as SARS. She believes that if it is an animal virus from the market, its genome will show signs of faster adjustment to adapt to its new human host. She prepared an analysis report that the virus “adapted” to humans and provided some theories to explain why. Maybe it has spread undetected among people in other parts of China. Or, she thought, maybe it’s been growing somewhere in a certain laboratory, maybe it’s reproduced in human cells or genetically modified mice with human genes spliced ​​into it.

She wrote that “the possibility of non-engineered viruses “adapting to humans in laboratory research” should be considered, no matter how likely it is.

On May 2, 2020, Chan published a preprinted paper co-authored with Deverman and Zhan on the bioRxiv website. BioRxiv is an online platform for quickly communicating results that have not been reviewed by other scientists. They wrote: “Our observations show that by the time SARS-CoV-2 was first discovered at the end of 2019, it had been pre-adapted to human transmission.” The Broad Institute communications department also pointed out to Chan an example of how to write “tweetorial”, which is A daisy-chain post with pictures, presenting compact scientific arguments to the wider public.She sent her First tweet the next day.

For reporters suspected of China’s handling of the virus, this clue — and subsequent clues — is explosives. This is a real scientist at the largest genetic center in the United States, who is explaining why the official story may be wrong. “Coronavirus is not an animal from the Wuhan market,” the headline of the “Daily Mail” reads. This is the first time Chen has entered a public conversation.

Despite the success of her report in the media, what the “Daily Mail” called Chen’s “milestone paper” has not been formally accepted by scientific journals. Chen said that this was because she was being scrutinized because she increased the likelihood of the laboratory’s source. However, Eisen of the University of California, Davis believes that Chen’s expectations of how the covid-19 virus should behave are still speculation. He believes that we have not tracked enough outbreaks in enough molecular details to truly understand what is normal. Moreover, he pointed out that covid-19 has been constantly changing and adapting.

“My colleague said this is a conspiracy-don’t bother. I said, no, I will treat it like any other paper,” said Eisen, who took the time to study the manuscript. “I think what she is trying to do is interesting, but I don’t believe in the conclusion. I think the inference is wrong. I do commend her for publishing it. Many people who promote the theory of laboratory origins do not make claims based on logic, but she does Her evidence. I don’t agree, but that’s science.”

Right or wrong, Chen’s term-“pre-adaptation”-makes people like writer Nicholson Baker shudder. “We are dealing with a very good disease. From the very beginning, it was chewing the human respiratory tract,” said Baker, who contacted Chen for more information.A few months later, in January of this year, Baker will be in New York Magazine Said he was convinced that the laboratory accident was the culprit. He cited various sources including Chen.

Pangolin problem

Chen did not strike a hole in the narrative of natural origin. Next, she wrote four papers published quickly in early 2020, two of which were published in the journal Nature, describing the virus in pangolins, an endangered mammal that is sometimes eaten as a delicacy in China , Has similarities with SARS-CoV-2. If researchers can find all the components of the pandemic virus, especially in wild animals that are illegally trafficked as food, then given the way the coronavirus exchanges parts, they can prove to be spilled from nature. The continuous publication of pangolin papers in early 2020 is a promising start. For the author of “Proximal Origins,” these similar viruses provide “strong” and “simple” evidence for natural emergence.

Chan and Zhan noticed that all the papers described the same animals-although some papers did not acknowledge overlap. Someone even relabeled the data to make it look novel. For Chen, this is more than sloppy work or scientific misconduct. She believes that there may be “coordination” among the overlapping authors of all these papers, some of whom have been published together before. She created the hashtag #pangolinpapers-reminiscent of Panama papers, which reveal secret offshore financial transactions.

Perhaps, she thought, researchers are now cleaning the data so that nature seems to be swimming with similar viruses.

Chan started sending emails to authors and journals to obtain the raw data she needed to analyze their work more comprehensively. Providing such data is usually a condition of publication, but it is still difficult to obtain. After what she called months of obstruction, Chen finally lost her composure and sent an accusation from her browser. “I need scientists and editors who directly or indirectly conceal serious research integrity issues surrounding some key SARS-2 viruses to stop and think,” she wrote on Twitter. “If your actions conceal the origin of SARS2, then you are involved in the deaths of millions of people.”

Eddie Holmes, a well-known Australian virologist and co-author of one of the papers (and “proximal origins”), called this tweet “the most despicable thing I have read on origins.” One of the things”.He felt accused, but he wanted to know what he was accused of because His thesis Correctly considered its pangolin data source. Holmes then distributed the intricate timeline that Chen prepared for the publication date and the past connection between the author. The dense arrows and connecting nets on the chart bear a clear resemblance to an obsessive cork board covered with red cords and pushpins.

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