Blog COVID-19

The Lab Leak Theory

A lab leak theory of the COVID-19 origins has enough circumstantial evidence and historical basis to support the urgent need for an independent and unbiased investigation. But until recently, scientists dismissed lab leak as a conspiracy theory. In public at least.

In this article, I will finally blog a bit about the Lab Leak Theory of COVID-19 origins. Personally, I think that this theory is the one which makes most sense given the available evidence. But because then US-President Donald Trump and other fascists in USA usurped the lab leak theory with glee, it was denounced as an anti-Chinese and anti-science conspiracy by almost all scientists as well as by most of the media: only right-wing outlets covered it, at least initially.

Things changed now, many scientists and media outlets now openly discuss lab leak as a serious possibility in urgent need of investigation. Others quietly prepare themselves to change position. I tried to interview Germany’s most prominent virologist Christian Drosten in this regard, because Drosten once co-authored an open letter dismissing lab leak speculations as a “conspiracy theories”; but due to a failed follow-up, Drosten’s replies appear inconclusive in the given context.

There are many articles on the topic of lab leak theory in the media these days, here are some particularly informative ones (do tell me if I forgot some):

And otherwise, do follow Alina Chan on Twitter!

Now, there are oodles of explainers around these days (eg, here in New York Times), and the story is way too complex. Here my own:

A virus which came from nowhere

A zoonotic origin of COVID-19, i.e directly from bats or via another intermediate animal host, is scientifically the most logical theory. Problem is, that despite all these investigations, no clues in this regard were found. The virus appeared as if from nowhere, already perfectly adapted to humans, sometime on November 2019 in the 11-million megacity of Wuhan, hundreds of kilometres from any bats who were anyway hibernating at that time of the year. All searches of Wuhan’s “wet markets” where live animals poached from the wild are sold, delivered exactly nothing. No animal host, no traces of SARS-CoV2 antibodies anywhere in the blood, animal or human, prior to November/December 2019. And according to Alina Chan (Zhan et al 2020), the SARS-CoV2 genome didn’t mutate at all when the pandemic began, while its naturally emerged bat virus relatives SARS and MERS (which intermediate hosts were quickly determined to be civets and camels, respectively) wildly mutated when they first hit people. Meaning: SARS-CoV2 was already perfectly trained on human, but where? Which mysterious animal was the intermediate host?

Earlier in the pandemic, Chinese government flouted the pangolin theory, claiming to have found SARS-CoV2 antibodies in poached pangolins sold on Chinese markets. Alina Chan and her colleague proved that research was shoddy at best: the exact same pangolin virus genome was published by various papers as independent isolations. None of these Chinese papers was retracted, but Chan’s work remains available only as preprint (Chan & Zhan bioRxiv 2020), no serious journal wants to take it, probably due to her activism for the lab leak theory.

Frozen Red Herring

What other theories are worth considering? Well, the WHO team (which was actual a 50/50 WHO-China team, all foreign members were vetted and approved by Chinese authorities) decided that a “cold chain” theory is quite possible. This postulates that SARS-CoV2 arrived to Wuhan from abroad via frozen or refrigerated food, like meat or fish. A frozen red herring theory which Chinese Communist Party embraced already before the WHO mission started, demanding investigations of COVID-19 origins in Europe and USA instead of at home. Assuming that it is scientifically possible that the virus travelled via frozen food from Europe and caused a mass infection in a mega-city (which never happened before in the entire human history), what does it actually imply?

It implies that COVID-19 must have started in Europe in 2019, spreading among the population for months until it reached the fish and chickens destined for China. Utterly undetected? No way, unless there is a massive masonic Illuminati cover-up in the EU, with everyone involved, Angela Merkel and all. Alternatively, the Europeans must have designed the virus in their secret bioweapon labs to stealthily attack China via tainted frozen red herrings. Both models are of course stupid conspiracy theories, even a theory of outer space origins of COVID-19-infected aliens coughing out of UFOs would be more reasonable. And yet this frozen red herring model is what the WHO mission to China found perfectly reasonable, while a lab leak in Wuhan was deemed as “extremely unlikely“, a fact-free conspiracy theory really.

Unlike with the frozen red herring theory, there is more than enough circumstantial evidence and experiences from the past to warrant an investigation into a possible lab leak. But such a discovery would be extremely consequential in many aspects, for virology and for politics, so it must be a conspiracy theory then!

Gain of function

Now, that WHO team deployed to China in early 2021 was officially led by a certain Peter Daszak, a British zoologist with keen interest in virology. Daszak had a conflict of interest the size of a planet: his EcoHealth Alliance was for years channelling US funding money from NIH and Pentagon to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) for the purpose of coronavirus research. Specifically, the gain of function research, where naturally occurring coronaviruses were manipulated in the lab to make them more pathogenic for humans, the idea being to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine. WIV was doing viral experiments like state-of-the-art genetic manipulation and virus passaging in human cell culture or in genetically manipulated (“humanized”) mice, all to make the coronaviruses more pathogenic to humans. We know all that also because Daszak himself was openly boasting about the WIV achievements just before the pandemic erupted, talking about inserting the spike protein “into a backbone of another virus” followed up by “some work in the lab“. The idea was to be prepared to save the world when the next coronavirus emerges from the wild to start an epidemic.

Another leader of the WHO-China team was Feng Zijian, deputy head of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who in February 2020 ordered China’s scientists “not to share any data, documents or specimens relating to the epidemic and to “prioritise the interests of the country”” as Unherd reported.

So the WHO team was quasi-led by a money-giver and personal friend of WIV virologists, in particular of the “Bat Woman”, Shi Zhangli (Daszak), and the Chinese official whose official job was to cover up things (Feng). All other members, Chinese and foreign, were hand-picked by the Chinese Communist Party also.

DRASTIC Citizen Science

The WIV also had a huge virus database, which unfortunately went offline in September 2019 and remains secret until today. Daszak insists that he knows the database and that it contains nothing interesting. Yet one of the viruses it stored, as internet sleuths of DRASTIC found out, was RaTG13, a bat coronavirus with 96% similarity to SARS-CoV2, extracted from bat in a Yunnan mine shafts in 2012. A rather deadly virus: back then, this bat pathogen or one of its relatives infected several men sent to these mine shafts to shovel bat guano, 3 of the men died. DRASTIC found that out by searching online available information, including Chinese dissertations databases. Here a Twitter thread by Alina Chan about DRASTIC sleuthing:

There is also a good account of DRASTIC investigations by Newsweek. The team members are the anonymous “The Seeker” and “Billy Bostickson“, Rossana Segreto, Yuri Deigin, Francisco de Asis de Ribera, Mona Rahalkar, Gilles Demaneuf, Rodolphe de Maistre and others. Until very recently, DRASTIC members were routinely denounced by esteemed academics as conspiracy theorists, science-denialists, Trumpsters, anti-Chinese racists, and worse. Some of these academics now quietly change positions. Some suspected a lab leak from the beginning while fighting the theory tooth and nail in public. Some sign up to calls for lab leak investigation while they keep kicking:

Now, if you were Chinese science and health authorities or military, keen to be prevent another SARS outbreak, would you not be interested in that lethal new coronavirus from Yunnan? Wouldn’t you study it, check for its mutation potential, to be prepared if it jumps species again? Officially: the answer is no, the RaTG13 virus was never used in WIV (it was even sequenced in 2018, as record prove). But then again, officially WIV also never kept any live bats, while DRASTIC investigators discovered WIV patents for bat breeding cages and finger tourniquets for bat bites.

Occasional Illnesses

Oh, and how weird is that, from Wall Street Journal citing US intelligence sources:

“Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report”

The 3 WIV researchers fell ill “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.” The Chinese authorities say it’s all lies. The WHO-China COVID-19 origins mission member Marion Koopmans, virology professor at Erasmus University in Netherlands, described the incidents as “occasional illnesses because that’s normal. […] certainly not a big, big thing“. In any case, her investigative mission was never allowed to actually investigate anything, all they got from their visit to WIV was a guided tour and some PowerPoint lectures. Including a visit to a propaganda exhibition celebrating China’s victory over the virus.

So without any clues so far to a natural or intermediate host of SARS-CoV2, and with the frozen red herring theory being bunk, what other theories could one pursue, if one were a serious scientist?

Human mistakes

Well, a lab leak. Those are actually not as rare as experts used to teach you in 2020. For example, SARS (which originally emerged naturally) escaped from Chinese labs at least 4 times since. Lab infections and pathogen leaks are quite common, even in USA, some escaped viruses even caused local epidemics, like the 1977 flu in USSR and China. It’s just that a lab leak causing a global pandemic was not observed before, but there is no logical reason why it shouldn’t be possible. And WIV’s BSL-4 lab had a history of shoddiness and safety shortcomings, as anxiously reported by US embassy already in 2018. Plus, some gain-of-function coronavirus research used to be performed in other Wuhan institutions in BSL-3 and even BSL-2 labs.

Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance funding to WIV was temporarily suspended in 2018 exactly because of the fear of an unintentional pathogen escape, but then all scientific societies in USA and 77 Nobel Prize winners protested, and the money started to flow again. Prior to that, in 2014, advances in gene engineering and virology panicked many scientists and the politicians who imposed a moratorium on gain-of-function coronavirus research, it was lifted in 2017 because other scientists protested.

Now tell me if this sounds prescient, in an article from 2017:

“I am not persuaded that the work is of greater potential benefit than potential harm,” said molecular biologist Richard Ebright of Rutgers University, who has argued that U.S. labs working with dangerous pathogens regularly suffer serious biosafety lapses. Experiments to create enhanced viruses, he and others argue, could lead to the pathogens’ accidental release, most likely by a lab worker becoming infected unknowingly and then walking out the door.

“A human is better at spreading viruses than an aerosol” that might breach a lab’s physical containment, said epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who has calculated that the risk of a lab-acquired infection sparking a pandemic is greater than recognized. “The engineering is not what I’m worried about. Accident after accident has been the result of human mistakes.”

Condemn conspiracy theories

Soon after the SARS-CoV2 pandemic started, world’s top virologists and other science leaders issued in February 2020 a statement in The Lancet:

Charles Calisher, Dennis Carroll, Rita Colwell, Ronald B Corley, Peter Daszak, Christian Drosten, Luis Enjuanes, Jeremy Farrar, Hume Field, Josie Golding, Alexander Gorbalenya, Bart Haagmans, James M Hughes, William B Karesh, Gerald T Keusch, Sai Kit Lam, Juan Lubroth, John S Mackenzie, Larry Madoff, Jonna Mazet, Peter Palese, Stanley Perlman, Leo Poon, Bernard Roizman, Linda Saif, Kanta Subbarao, Mike Turner Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China combatting COVID-19 The Lancet (2020) doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30418-9 

The statement went, highlight mine:

“The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2),1 and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,2345678910 as have so many other emerging pathogens.1112 This is further supported by a letter from the presidents of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine13 and by the scientific communities they represent. Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.”

You may have noticed that Daszak, the man whose EcoHealth Alliance channelled US money to WIV for coronavirus gain-of-function research, is one of the Open Letter’s authors, while declaring “no competing interests“. The investigative journalists of US Right to Know obtained emails which proved that it was Daszak who masterminded the Lancet article and organised the signatures (here and here).

Daszak was also a member of two investigative teams deployed to find the COVID-19 origins, one by The Lancet, and another by WHO, the China-approved and controlled investigation mentioned above. Daszak’s team colleague and WHO scientist Peter Ben Embarek declared already at the February 2021 press conference that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely”. Fittingly, the Lancet Open Letter from February 2020 also implored:

We support the call from the Director-General of WHO to promote scientific evidence and unity over misinformation and conjecture.14

So you see, and now even WHO decreed lab leak theory of COVID-19 origins was a conspiracy and must not be pursued! Well, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus did not agree with the stance:

““As far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table. This report is a very important beginning, but it is not the end. We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do,” said Dr Tedros. “Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers.””

Oh. That was embarrassing.

Investigate the origins of COVID-19

And now look at the names of quite respectable scientists who demanded in May 2021 that the lab leak theory of COVID-19 origins from a Wuhan lab to be taken seriously. And look which journal agreed to publish their Open Letter: Science.

Jesse D. Bloom, Yujia Alina Chan, Ralph S. Baric, Pamela J. Bjorkman, Sarah Cobey, Benjamin E. Deverman, David N. Fisman, Ravindra Gupta, Akiko Iwasaki, Marc Lipsitch, Ruslan Medzhitov, Richard A. Neher, Rasmus Nielsen, Nick Patterson, Tim Stearns, Erik van Nimwegen, Michael Worobey, David A. Relman Investigate the origins of COVID-19 Science (2021) doi: 10.1126/science.abj0016

The statement went:

“In May 2020, the World Health Assembly requested that the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general work closely with partners to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2 (2). In November, the Terms of Reference for a China–WHO joint study were released (3). The information, data, and samples for the study’s first phase were collected and summarized by the Chinese half of the team; the rest of the team built on this analysis. Although there were no findings in clear support of either a natural spillover or a lab accident, the team assessed a zoonotic spillover from an intermediate host as “likely to very likely,” and a laboratory incident as “extremely unlikely” [(4), p. 9]. Furthermore, the two theories were not given balanced consideration. Only 4 of the 313 pages of the report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident (4). Notably, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus commented that the report’s consideration of evidence supporting a laboratory accident was insufficient and offered to provide additional resources to fully evaluate the possibility (5).

As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general (5), the United States and 13 other countries (6), and the European Union (7) that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve. We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data. A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.”

Now, you may have noticed that one of the authors of this Open Letter in Science is a certain Ralph Baric, virology professor at the University of North Carolina, USA. Who published in 2015, together with the “Bat Woman” Zhengli Shi of Wuhan Institute of Virology, a paper in Nature about their joint gain-of-function and genetic engineering research with coronaviruses, Menachery et al, A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence, Nature 2015. The Baric-Shi paper is decorated since March 2020 with:

“Editors’ note, March 2020: We are aware that this article is being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most likely source of the coronavirus.”

Baric was also, next to Daszak, one of the organisers of that Calisher et al Lancet 2020 open letter from February 2020, as US Right to Know uncovered. As Shi’s research collaborator, Baric did not sign it back then exactly because Daszak wanted to avoid any direct connection to WIV which would hint at conflicts of interests. So now Baric signed another open letter which demands exactly the opposite.

The last author of that Bloom et al Science 2021 article, the Stanford microbiology professor David Relman, wrote afterwards in Washington Post:

Given the political explosiveness of the lab-leak hypothesis, and its embrace by people with an anti-China agenda, do we really need to pursue the possibility of a laboratory accident? For me — a scholar who specializes in infectious diseases, human-microbe relationships and biosecurity — the answer is yes. I first made that case in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last fall, and more recently helped to organize a letter in Science calling for a proper investigation of covid-19’s origins, co-signed by 17 other eminent scientists working in the trenches to better understand and counter this virus.

The bottom line is that we have failed to discover SARS-CoV-2 anywhere other than in cases of human disease, and we have failed to find the immediate viral ancestors anywhere. One might argue that we don’t need to know anything more to take both hypotheses seriously and to work to reduce the chances of either kind of spillover in the future.

I think this view is overly rosy. If we scientists are not forced to confront the issues of laboratory safety and risky research in a serious and sustained manner, history suggests that we will not do so.

Christian Drosten: “currently no reliable information that would suggest a non-natural origin of COVID-19

Seeing that so many scientists, including Baric, changed their position in public, I tried to interview one of the signatories of The Lancet Open Letter from February 2020: Germany’s top virologist Christian Drosten, professor at the Charite Medical School in Berlin, Germany. In January 2020, Drosten’s team developed the first SARS-CoV2 PCR detection method which was adopted by WHO. Since then, he lead Germany’s and EU’s COVID-19 response, constantly attacked and maligned by covidiots of various degrees of ignorance and nastiness. I wondered if Drosten’s views on COVID-19 origins were, given the recent statements by his colleagues.

These were my questions (in bold), and Drosten’s replies which a Charite spokesperson forwarded to me on 5 June 2021 and which I present in English translation:

  1. You surely know the current state of knowledge about the Lab Leak Hypothesis. Do you still stand by your earlier statement with Peter Daszak: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.

Drosten: “It is not clear from your question to which “current state of knowledge” you are referring. Against this background, your question is too general to be able to respond.

Regardless of this, I will explain the background to the statement published in “The Lancet” on February 19, 2020: At the time the statement was published, serious accusations against Chinese scientists were rampant in public. They were assumed to be actively involved in covering up a supposedly unnatural origin of COVID-19. There was no valid evidence or reliable evidence for this serious allegation. I thought the public statement was suitable to document my solidarity with these scientists.

Nothing has changed in my scientific assessment of the situation. At the moment, I have no evidence or reliable evidence that would support the allegations against the scientists explained above. If you have any contrary information or findings, I ask you to confront me with it so that I can comment on it.

  1. Do you agree with the decision of the WHO Mission on COVID-19 Origins (to which Mr Daszak was such a prominent member) that a COVID-19 origin from the laboratory is actually “extremely unlikely“?

Drosten: “To the best of my knowledge, there is currently no reliable information that would suggest a non-natural origin of COVID-19. If you have any contrary information or findings, I would ask you to confront me with it so that I can comment on it.

I wrote back right away, explaining that the accusations of a cover-up were (as far as I know) never aimed at his Chinese peers, but at the Communist Party and the Chinese authorities who exert pressure on the scientists. I also sent Drosten the above discussed Bloom et al Science 2021 statement which I understood he must have missed, the WHO statement rejecting the conclusions of the WHO-China team, a recent Vanity Fair article detailing the DRASTIC investigation and a WSJ article reporting US intelligence that several WIV lab employees fell ill with COVID-19 symptoms in November 2019.

I also emailed the US Right To Know reports about Daszak’s role in organising that Lancet Open Letter from February 2020 which Drosten signed as co-author. So far, no follow-up messages, neither from Drosten nor from Charite.

Finally, I asked Drosten about his own very recent interview and posted my questions in this regard. The interview appeared in German in a Swiss newspaper on 5 June 2021, Drosten stated that in his view the most plausible origin of COVID-19 was the Chinese fur industry, “carnivores” and specifically the raccoon dogs bred for that purpose which could have served as an intermediate host reservoir for a bat virus before it jumped into humans. In this regard, Drosten however admitted:

I have no evidence for this, except for the clearly proven origin of Sars-1, and this is a virus of the same species. Viruses of the same species do the same things and often come from the same source. In Sars-1, this is scientifically documented, the transitional hosts were raccoon dogs and civets“.

Problem is in my view, the Chinese authorities have no evidence for that SARS-CoV2 origin theory either, and they did search everywhere ever since December 2019. They screened 69 different animal species already in the first week of December 2019 and found no traces of COVID-19. And the pangolin trace was proven to be fake. Hence their frozen red herring theory.

About the lab leak theory, Drosten stated in that interview:

So, let’s imagine someone wanted to see what happens when they fit this coronavirus with a furin cleavage site that we know from the influenza viruses: does it make it more aggressive? For this I would take the Sars-1 virus, in a form that I can also change in the laboratory. […] So if you had wanted to develop a kind of Sars-2 in the laboratory, you would have changes, for example this furin site, inserted into such a Sars-1 clone. To find out, does this adaptation make the Sars virus more contagious? But that was not the case here. The whole backbone of the virus is different: Sars-2 is full of deviations from the original Sars-1 virus.

[…] This idea of ​​a research accident is extremely unlikely to me because it would be far too cumbersome. The idea of a ​​malicious use by some secret service laboratory somewhere: if anything, something like that would probably not come from the Wuhan Virology Institute. This is a reputable academic institute.

I asked Drosten about alternative backbones, like that of the RaTG13 bat coronavirus or it possible relatives, stored and even used in WIV, as DRASTIC investigators have uncovered. Useful backbones also, with much more novelty and potential impact than SARS1. Pointed Drosten even to Shi’s own paper Zhou et al Nature 2015, which declared in a November 2002 addendum:

“In 2020, we compared the sequence of SARS-CoV-2 with our unpublished bat coronavirus sequences and found that it shared a 96.2% identity with RaTG13.”

No reply so far.

Update 10.06.2021

Charité spokesperson replied this morning:

We refer you again to the statement by Prof. Drosten, which we sent you on May 5th. In the last NDR podcast, Prof. Drosten also provided further information on the questions you raised in the context of your e-mails. Regardless of this, it is not Prof. Drosten’s job to view and comment on the URLs you have provided. Thank you for your understanding.

This is the mentioned NDR podcast, Drosten says there his Lancet piece with Daszak was “merely a solidarity statement“, to defend Chinese colleagues form accusations of “malicious acting“. I wonder how Drosten can form an opinion on “conspiracy theories” and what the accusations actually are if his job description doesn’t include reading even the relevant papers by his peers and WHO. But wait, he read it all, it’s just Charité being rude to me. Further in the podcast Drosten says about the Bloom et al Science 2021 open letter:

And I totally agree with that. I would also criticize the current work of the WHO with this mission. Not only for this reason of bias, but for other reasons as well.

He then demands an urgent investigation of the Chinese fur industry and slams the “bad journalism” which reports a Chinese PhD thesis as evidence. But regarding WIV, Drosten expects respectable communication between scientists on an academic level instead of an investigation which barges in and “tries to rummage though drawers“, presumably for the deleted virus database. Drosten also says that “It could be that Chinese scientists are not allowed to [disprove the lab leak] because they might not want to see it from the political side” and then says elsewhere “we basically do not consider Chinese scientists to be influenced“. But RaTG13 is never mentioned in the entire long podcast.

Unwelcome Attention

In USA, any debate about a possible lab leak as COVID-19 origin was suppressed because it would have served the fascist Trump regime. Vanity Fair uncovered:

“A months long Vanity Fair investigation, interviews with more than 40 people, and a review of hundreds of pages of U.S. government documents, including internal memos, meeting minutes, and email correspondence, found that conflicts of interest, stemming in part from large government grants supporting controversial virology research, hampered the U.S. investigation into COVID-19’s origin at every step. In one State Department meeting, officials seeking to demand transparency from the Chinese government say they were explicitly told by colleagues not to explore the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s gain-of-function research, because it would bring unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of it.”

But now that Trump is gone, it is not just his appointees, the former FDA head Scott Gottlieb or the former CDC director Robert Redfield who demand for the lab leak theory to be taken seriously. Similar calls for an investigation are being made by Biden’s new CDC director Rochelle Walensky, and even by Anthony Fauci himself. Fauci was quoted in FT:

I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019,” Fauci said. “Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with? “The same with the miners who got ill years ago . . . What do the medical records of those people say? Was there [a] virus in those people? What was it? It is entirely conceivable that the origins of Sars-Cov-2 was in that cave and either started spreading naturally or went through the lab.

Because of that, China turned on Fauci and started to call him liar as well.

Fauci is both a great scientist and a great diplomat. He managed to protect USA from the worst excesses of Trump’s death cult because Fauci simply knows how to achieve things without going public. He also knows what can be spoken out, when, and to whom.

But now even the apolitical and gullible NIH director Francis Collins now takes lab leak as a possibility and demands a “thorough, expert-driven, and objective investigation, with full access to all information about events in Wuhan in the fall of 2019“.

How things changed! In an email to Fauci from April 2020 (obtained under Freedom of Information by Buzzfeed), Collins referred to the lab leak theory as “conspiracy gains momentum”. Fauci’s response to that email is entirely blacked out, strange.

The same email stash revealed that the Scripps virology professor Kristian Andersen, one of the fiercest public critics of the lab leak theory and its proponents, discussed with Fauci in February 2020 if SARS-CoV2 was “engineered“:

The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (<0.1%) so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered.
We have a good team lined up to look very critically at this, so we should know much more at the end of the weekend. I should mention that after discussions earlier today, Eddie, Bob, Mike, and myself all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory

Andersen tweeted on 1 June 2021 (he deleted his account afterwards), referencing the above tweet by Jimmy Tobias:

As I have said many times, we seriously considered a lab leak a possibility. However, significant new data, extensive analyses, and many discussions led to the conclusions in our paper. What the email shows, is a clear example of the scientific process

Attached was a link to Andersen et al Nature 2020 where the Scripps virologist and his colleagues declared in March 2020:

It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus. As noted above, the RBD of SARS-CoV-2 is optimized for binding to human ACE2 with an efficient solution different from those previously predicted7,11. Furthermore, if genetic manipulation had been performed, one of the several reverse-genetic systems available for betacoronaviruses would probably have been used19. However, the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone20. Instead, we propose two scenarios that can plausibly explain the origin of SARS-CoV-2: (i) natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer; and (ii) natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer. We also discuss whether selection during passage could have given rise to SARS-CoV-2.

Now even Daszak seems to poise himself to change his position, quoted in May 2021:

““There are plenty of reasons to question China’s openness and transparency on a whole range of issues including early reporting of the pandemic,” he told KHN. “You can never definitively say that what China is telling us is correct.””

Sverdlovsk incident

Meanwhile, the gain of function experiments continue because a lab leak is still officially “extremely unlikely”. Will we soon get a 1918-style flu pandemic next because exactly same thing is being done with flu viruses, until 2019 on a much bigger scale than with coronaviruses? Or did some clever-clogs already design an airborne Ebola? Sure, trust the experts, pathogen leaks never happen because of safety and security etc.

In 1979, a secret Soviet bioweapon plant near Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) accidentality released live weapon-grade anthrax, by an accident of human error and typical Soviet sloppiness. Luckily, the winds did not blow in the direction of the city. From Wikipedia:

The incident was reported to military command, but local and city officials were not immediately informed. Boris Yeltsin, a local Communist Party official at this time, helped cover up the accident.[2]

All workers of a ceramic plant across the street fell ill during the next few days. Almost all of them died within a week. The death toll is reported to be at least 66, but the exact number is unknown, as all hospital records and much other evidence were destroyed by the KGB, according to former Biopreparat deputy director Ken Alibek.[2]

In 1986, Professor Matthew Meselson of Harvard University was granted approval by Soviet authorities for a four-day trip to Moscow where he interviewed several senior Soviet health officials about the outbreak. He later issued a report which agreed with the Soviet assessment that the outbreak was caused by a contaminated meat processing plant, concluding the Soviets’ official explanation was completely “plausible and consistent with what is known from medical literature and recorded human experiences with anthrax”.[3][4]

Following an admission by President Boris Yeltsin that “our military development was the cause,” Sverdlovsk’s Communist Party chief in 1979, of the true nature of the anthrax outbreak, Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Gumbel traveled to Sverdlovsk where he interviewed families affected by the outbreak, hospital workers, and various officials, confirming Yeltsin’s comments.[3] Based on these reports a team of Western inspectors led by Meselson gained access to the region in 1992. […] The military facility remains closed to inspection. Meselson’s original contention for many years had been that the outbreak was a natural one and that the Soviet authorities were not lying when they disclaimed having an active offensive bio-warfare program[7]

Why does it all sound so familiar? History repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as an even bigger tragedy. Replace anthrax with SARS-CoV2, USSR with China, and Matthew Meselson with Peter Daszak, and the similarities are uncanny. It’s not like today’s Communist China is not similarly oppressive, militarised, secretive and paranoid as the Soviet Union was.

Bioengineered Nature paper?

Sure, even if SARS-CoV2 escaped from a Wuhan lab it was never meant as a bioweapon. But the Chinese military has a high interest to defend the nation by preventing the next SARS outbreak, and the way there, according to scientists, is a pan-coronavirus vaccine. And the way to such a vaccine, again according to same scientists, is the gain-of-function research with the natural coronaviruses sampled in the wild, preferably in bats. This is what WIV was doing intensively, sampling bats all over China, sequencing, culturing and modifying the viruses, making them more infectuous so we can have this vaccine.

What if SARS-CoV2 was a bioengineered Nature paper?

What if WIV aimed to modify those Yunnan bat viruses like RaTG13 by gain-of-function research, in order to publish the next paper in Nature about dangers of coronaviruses and the need for more funding for vaccine research? What if they really aimed to boost its human pathogenicity and transmissibility and even inserted the furin cleavage site to prove their point? It would have been a great Nature paper, all the world would be talking about it. China, USA, and every other nation would pump billions into coronavirus research so the next epidemic from a zoonotic spill-over can be prevented.

It looks like the experiment was slightly more successful than intended. And where is the vaccine it was meant to deliver? Wasn’t a pan-coronavirus vaccine the whole reason that gain-of-function research was allowed and heavily sponsored? Hello? Whom is science serving here – society, or commercial journal publishers? Was the part about the pan-coronavirus vaccine too difficult to achieve, so the scientists focussed on the much easier part of creating dangerous pathogens to claim Nature papers and millions in funding?

Or is this a conspiracy theory?

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41 comments on “The Lab Leak Theory

  1. Ruth Dixon

    This recent paper found no evidence of bats or pangolins being sold in Wuhan markets prior to the pandemic:

    “Our findings illustrate both the range and extent of wildlife exploitation in Wuhan markets, prior to new trading bans linked to the COVID-19 outbreak, along with the poor conditions under which these animals were kept prior to sale. Circumstantially, the absence of pangolins (and bats, not typically eaten in Central China; media footage generally depicts Indonesia) from our comprehensive survey data corroborates that pangolins are unlikely implicated as spill-over hosts in the COVID-19 outbreak.”

    Animal sales from Wuhan wet markets immediately prior to the COVID-19 pandemic
    Xiao Xiao, Chris Newman, Christina D. Buesching, David W. Macdonald & Zhao-Min Zhou
    Scientific Reports volume 11, Article number: 11898 (2021)


  2. Michael Balter collated the news coverage and other literature on the Lab leak theory here:
    Pandemic Punditry and Pubs: A crash course on the controversy over the lab-leak hypothesis for Covid-19 origins, by way of an extensive reading list.
    Here Balter tackles the delicate issue of lab leak theory and the racist sentiment peddled by the far-right:
    Pandemic Politics: How Much Does it Matter if the Lab Leak Hypothesis is Right or Wrong?
    It also hasn’t helped that recent articles urging that we take another look at the lab-leak hypothesis, by former New York Times science reporters Nick Wade and Donald McNeil, Jr, were penned by two men who have themselves been accused of racism in various contexts. On the other hand, serious scientists with real PhDs are also coming forth to say that we need to seriously investigate and keep an open mind.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very thorough job on this controversy, and enjoyable to read despite the seriousness of the subject. I have focused largely on the poor media coverage in my own take on the subject, for those interested in reading it:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lovely post by Peter Daszak in the Guardian from June 2020.
    “Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know Covid-19 wasn’t created in a lab”

    “Suggestions that Covid-19 is a manmade virus are the latest chapter in a tale of blame, misinformation and finger-pointing. Cue the conspiracy theorists, marching out their narrative about the high-security BSL-4 lab in Wuhan, where mysterious experiments to design “frankenviruses” led to the tragic global pandemic. Cue the genetic analyses pointing to “unexpected” insertions in the code of A, G, T, and C that explain how this virus could not have evolved naturally. Cue political posturing against China, with calls for an inquiry, trade sanctions and even reparations.”
    Guardian is always on the side of scientists, especially British ones, no matter what they did, even if this means to silence other scientists whom Guardian decreed to be inferior liars.
    The dedication went so far that The Guardian even suppressed Daszak’s conflict of interests. Some days after publishing the article, Guardian added a sentence to Daszak’s own words:
    I also know the work of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, because we have partnered with them on research projects.
    And a notice:
    This article was amended on 11 June 2020 to make clear the writer’s past work with researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
    Archived version here:
    Guardian still seems to insist that EcoHealth Alliance never funded WIV:
    Peter Daszak is president of EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to analysing and preventing pandemics


  5. Ana Pedro

    About theories of conspiration I don’t know although I wouldn’t be surprised given the Chinese regimen someone gets to the conclusion in the not so far future the virus was indeed a leak from a Chinese lab. What I really think is that the original Chinese Nature paper describing Sars-Cov-2 makes no sense and I think the data is erroneous.
    I will submit here later some comments about this paper I could not published at PubPeer.


    • Ana Pedro

      My unpublished comments at PubPeer for : “A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin” below:

      So if this data is correct why the Covid-19 PCR test gives so many false negatives and so many false positives? Only 7 patient samples? 5 of them positive for CoVs? And the other 2? Why you just simply concentrated in CoVs and didn’t perform a test for a panel of respiratory microorganisms? Why didn’t you try to see what it was common between all the 7 samples? “One sample (WIV04), collected from the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF), was analysed by metagenomics analysis using next-generation sequencing to identify potential aetiological agents. Of the 10,038,758 total reads—of which 1,582 total reads were retained after filtering of reads from the human genome—1,378 (87.1%) sequences matched the sequence of SARSr-CoV (Fig. 1a). By de novo assembly and targeted PCR, we obtained a 29,891-base-pair CoV genome that shared 79.6% sequence identity to SARS-CoV BJ01 (GenBank accession number AY278488.2). ” – just ONE sample? given that patients can be co-infected with several different m.o. would be this the one responsible for the patient’s clinical condition? So is this putative new pandemics caused by a Cov for sure?
      Moreover, the PCR test identifies CoVs in general, not this putative CoV2.

      I think this paper lacks scientific coherence and accuracy and does not proof there is a new CoV virus. This is why many people who tests positive just have common colds, while there is many very ill people who tests negative. The real infectious agent of this disease was not described/discovered yet and what happens is that some of the very ill patients are co-infected with normal CoVs and their variants which are just inoffensive common cold viruses.


  6. Why did Drosten even bother to reply, I wonder? His answers are so evasive, both pompous and slimy. Most of all, dishonest. Sadly typical example of our scientific establishment.


    • Drosten has put in countless unpaid hours trying to educate and inform the German speaking public about COVID facts and the state of virological research. All this despite constantly receiving death threats and tons of bile from covidiots and raving madmen. So I think it is laudable that he also takes the time to reply to letters, questions and inquiries. I listened to about all of his 50+ podcasts and he comes across as a serious, knowledgeable and honest man. I am quite confident that he believes in what he says. So tell me what is so slimy and pompous about saying “I see no compelling evidence but I gladly will look at any additional information you can give me”?
      I very much would like to have way more scientists like him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you fully. That said, I am disappointed in the replies or rather the non-replies I received. Incidentally, all of the Lancet signatories seem to stand by their assessment of “conspiracy theories” even today. Remarkable!


  7. NMH, the failed scientist and incel

    I went into science because I was passionate about being dispassionate—science being a place where the truth is important beyond money, or, in this case in money’s costume of conflict of interests. Now, even science loses to the ego and greed of the scientists that run the show.

    If there are aliens out there (and it appears now that may be the case), hopefully they will zap all animal life out of existence on this poor planet and just leave the plants.


    • Albert V

      Only humans need to be exterminated.

      The greed has become so overwhelming that western scientists still continue to cover-up the Chinese bio-weapon research program. The directors of WIV are all generals meaning that “bat woman” herself should have rank colonel as a principle investigator there, this institute is much more military than scientific. In that sense the (military) scientists in WIV are part of the Chinese authorities and actively collaborate with them. In such a regime there is simply no other option.


  8. That is a very interesting article, especially when considering that I just finished reading this:

    Makes for an interesting contrast of opinions.


    • Lol, that astrophysics-trained gentleman also says UFOs can be real because science. I make fun of him here:


      • No, he doesn’t. The last paragraph of his article very clearly states (emphasis mine):

        “What you mustn’t do, however, is to draw a fantastic conclusion — like “these objects must be aliens” — without sufficient evidence to do so. Given that these UFOs/UAPs are most frequently seen in areas with military presences, and have never been recorded in the professional telescopes of astronomers, the null hypothesis of these being terrestrial phenomena must continue to be our default position.”

        That is very different from “UFOs can be real because science”


      • Who reads till the end. Most people don’t do that even with my articles!
        Btw, did you see my update regarding Drosten, in the main text? It seems he is perfectly aware of all the new evidence and statements by his peers, and even agrees much of it. To me, the only thing Drosten seems not to have read properly was Daszak’s Open Letter in Lancet which he signed.


  9. Multiplex

    »(…) some escaped viruses even caused local epidemics, like the 1977 flu in USSR and China. It’s just that a lab leak causing a global pandemic was not observed before (…)«

    Really? 1977/78 H1N1 lab escape resulted in world wide casualties, according to chapter 11 in:

    Same chapter: “No judgment can currently be formulated on the exact origin of SARS-CoV2” (book release: August 2020)


  10. As soon as Kristian Andersen learned of RaTG13 existence, he went from thinking SARS-CoV2 might be “engineered” to “conspiracy theory”.


  11. Shi Zhengli and her brainchild RatG13 get a lot of press time. And, she, it seems , is credited by most with having been the first to publicly record the sequence for cov2. She wasn’t the first .

    That honor belongs to a guy who seems content with his anonymity- Yong-Zhen Zhang.
    You never see his name in the lab origin/not lab origin debates. I wonder why?

    And yet, just as Shi Zhengli is fastened to a fake, RatG13, so to is Yong-Zhen Zhang fastened to a a couple of fakes- ZXC21/ZC45.

    A lot of fakery going on in China.

    In any case, there’s a story around old Yong-Zhen Zhang and his timely release of the cov2 . I guess someone will swerve into it eventually.


    • Ana Pedro

      Exactly, a lot of fake science going on in China (although perhaps some good science as well in some instances). If there is a possibility, China will be producing virus in the lab as a biological weapon, they will not publish the truth, they will rather publish fake data. The western world should not rely in such fake data to combat pandemics (like the current Covid-19 tests), should rather establish an international collaboration similar to the Human Genome Project to screen people with symptoms of serious infectious diseases, take samples and proceed to -omics studies of such samples in order to find real, truly biomarkers and vaccination targets for such diseases whether if old or novel diseases. Meanwhile, even for the sake of the environmental changes in order to combat putative pandemics should reduce to half capacity flights, restaurants, hotels, shows, different retail shops, public transports and cars in circulation, plant trees, yes who can work from home, promote virtual meetings, public disinfection measures and self-isolation for those with symptoms, use of face mask, etc but not to forbid people to travel, business to operate, promote rational use of antibiotics, etc….this way the Chinese are really wining the game!!


    • @
      Fuddman could you give any clues about Cov2 release by Yong_Zhen Zhang?
      Maybe something related with Holmes?


  12. Max Mustermani

    It is very “interesting” to read all these discoveries- it seems that all of them are written by people who never been in China and never saw students who use bicycles to transport bio samples through the campus and these samples dropped on the asphalt road and break… For people who worked and lived there everything was and is obvious from day one …


    • Ana Pedro

      Exactly, that’s why I am so surprised western countries governments rely so much in the Chinese data to tackle this pandemics.


  13. More Soviet stories, courtesy of Alla Astakhova.
    Allegedly, in 1975-1976 the entire population of the USSR, all 15 republics, was vaccinated for bioweapon-grade botulism, both Botulinum A and B, in utter secrecy without anyone knowing, inside the country or abroad. This was revealed in a small edition book by the late Petr Burgasov, former chief clinician of the Soviet Union. Burgasov also worked, already under Stalin on biological weapons (incl Botulitum A/B), and reported directly to Lavrentiy Beria. Burgasov’s explanation for the extremely urgent and utterly secret mass vaccination was to protect the Soviet people in case of a US attack with biological weapons.
    The more reasonable explanation would be a massive lab leak from one of Soviet bio-weapon plants. Just like Sverdlovsk 4 year later.
    Burgasov however denied a possibility of a leak, but admitted that once a bioweapon grade pox did escape, in Kazakhstan where he and his team were testing bioweapons.


    • Max Mustermani

      The whole article is like a detective 😉 Although, after such long time one cannot proof anything …


  14. Oh well. Another Daszak lie debunked.
    “The Wuhan Institute of Virology kept live bats in cages, new footage from inside the facility has revealed, disproving denials from World Health Organisation investigators who claimed the suggestion was a “conspiracy”.
    An official Chinese Academy of Sciences video to mark the launch of the new biosafety level 4 laboratory in May 2017 speaks about security precautions in place if “an accident” occurs and reveals there had been “intense clashes” with the French government during the construction of the laboratory.
    The video shows bats held in a cage at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, along with a scientist feeding a worm to a bat. […]
    In one tweet in December, Dr Daszak said: “No BATS were sent to Wuhan lab for genetic analysis of viruses collected in the field. That’s not how this science works. We collect bat samples, send them to the lab. “We RELEASE bats where we catch them.”
    In another tweet, he wrote: “This is a widely circulated conspiracy theory. This piece describes work I’m the lead on and labs I’ve collaborated with for 15 years. They DO NOT have live or dead bats in them.
    “There is no evidence anywhere that this happened. It’s an error I hope will be corrected.”
    This month, Dr Daszak appeared to retract his earlier denials and admitted the Wuhan Institute of Virology may have housed bats.
    He also admitted the WHO team had not asked them about it.”


  15. Another Daszak letter signatory, Jeremy Farrar, head of Wellcome Trust:
    “Now, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that emails from America’s top infectious disease chief, Anthony Fauci, show how Farrar played a key role behind the scenes in marshalling top scientists’ response to concerns over the virus’s origins, even demanding secrecy on their discussions.
    Crucially, he was a central figure behind two landmark statements published by leading science journals that helped to silence dissident views, arguing against the plausibility of ‘any type of laboratory-based scenario’.”

    Interesting aspect:
    “Just weeks before the pandemic erupted, Farrar helped oversee a report alongside Fauci for the World Health Organisation that highlighted an increasing risk of global pandemic from a pathogen escaping after being engineered in a lab.
    Significantly, it said scientific advances allowed ‘disease-causing micro-organisms to be engineered or recreated in laboratories’, warning that ‘accidental or deliberate events caused by high-impact respiratory pathogens pose global catastrophic biological risks’.”


  16. Ana Pedro

    So what would be the benefits if this is all true of hiding a real pandemic and tackling a fake one?


  17. CGG-CGG insert of furin site does not leave any room for doubts. This virus is the result of gain of functions experiments performed in Wuhan Institute.


  18. Ana Pedro

    And that Chineses scientists don’t even know how to fake appropriately and that the western world believes in them piously for some reason.


    • NMH, the failed scientist and incel

      Its the scientific leadership in the west that treats them piously and with care for 1.) virtual signaling (they get to be renaissance men by being friendly and supportive of the Chinese, denizens of a former 3rd world country, and 2.) financial interests that are mostly conflicted. Think the Dept of Chem chair at Harvard is a perfect example of this, Charles Lieber; also that Xueto Cao lackey Nicholas Peppas. All these people want is power, fame, and money, and they get to be renaissance men!


  19. NMH, the failed scientist and incel

    A good sign, below. Angela Rasmussen needs to be fired, publically humiliated, and then caned into silence.


  20. Should be calling it the Wuhan Flu, the Carolina Flu or the Fauci Flu?


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