Another wave of conspiracy theories about the man-made Covid-19 pandemic blame the Wuhan virology laboratory for everything, the researchers from which actually constructed a virus close to the current one in 2015. And yet he was very different - this is not SARS-CoV-2. According to the new work, their genes do not coincide by tens of percent, the gap is much larger than in humans and chimpanzees. There are other factors that practically exclude the possibility of artificial origin of any virus, similar to the one that unleashed the current epidemic.
Biological Bomb Building Instructions
The embryo of a new class of conspiracy theories was a 2015 article in Nature, which even then, five years ago, caused a big scandal. Its authors - Americans and two Chinese scientists from the Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety of the Wuhan Institute of Virology - took a virus isolated from a bat and the 2002-2003 SARS virus. Analyzing what certain parts of the RNA of the virus are responsible for, scientists have found a way to make such a coronavirus simultaneously capable of infecting laboratory mice and human cells (as well as one of the monkeys). The resulting chimeric virus was named SHC014-MA15.
Why this was done is understandable. If you want to study what a new coronavirus like SARS could be (and a number of scientific groups were expecting its appearance, since it is logical from the point of view of evolution), it would be good to learn in advance how to deal with such a phenomenon. After all, it is necessary to fight with a vaccine, and it must be worked out on an experimental animal or at least in a cell culture. Therefore, there is nothing to blame virologists for: objectively, such experiments are useful.
Of course, as is customary in the highly competitive scientific world, the authors of the article were subjected to the most severe criticism. The main idea was: what you have achieved by creating such a chimeric virus is not clear, but what would have happened if it had leaked out, just understandably well - an epidemic. But time has shown the critics' shortsightedness. In 2018, it was discovered that there is a vaccine that can prevent the SHC014-MA15 virus from entering the host's body (the vaccine was tested in mice).
By the way, this easily shows once again that the current pandemic is not the same chimeric virus. If it were him, everyone would have vigorously tormented the very vaccine that they worked on rodents two years ago. Unfortunately, this drug will not help in any way: the real coronavirus of 2019 developed in a completely different direction than the laboratory one in 2015. It "attaches" to human cells for another protein, so there is practically no sense from that vaccine.
Comparison of passports: natural or synthetic?
The virus has no face, and to understand which of them is which, you need to compare genomes. Therefore, a group of American researchers decided to find out if the 2015 chimeric virus (SHC014-MA15) is really similar to the 2019 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). To do this, they compared the progenitor of the 2015 virus - the SARS virus - with the current coronavirus. It turned out that there are more than five thousand nucleotide differences. In SARS-CoV-2, there are only 30 thousand of them, that is, we are talking about a very big difference.
At the same time, the related coronavirus found in Chinese bats differed from the current source of the epidemic by only 4% of genes - less than one and a half thousand nucleotides.It turns out that the chimeric virus resembles the new one less than the new one resembles the “wild” virus of Chinese bats.
Finally, the authors of the work, published the other day in the United States, note that the 2015 chimeric virus did not attach to cells at all with the help of the ACE2 protein. He used completely different "gates", different proteins. That is, there is little in common between them, not only in terms of genes, but also in terms of the "technique" of introduction into human cells.
Could a new coronavirus have been obtained in a laboratory
Okay, the reader will say. In fact, the new virus does not look like the chimeric one from the laboratory. But is it possible to create something like this artificially? Moreover, the thing turned out to be strong: quarantine measures clearly hit the economies of many countries. All this is downright asking for a script for "Fight Club" or another film about undermining world governments in an attempt to sow chaos and anarchy around the world. Why shouldn't a group of dashing anarchists who do not like civilization try to make something like that?
In principle, this is possible. Only then did they, to put it mildly, miss. The virus turned out to be half-hearted: it can kill people, but it cannot bring down civilization. The fact is that for the coronavirus, air is not the main medium of spread. It spreads mainly with droplets deposited on door handles and the like. One patient with it infects, on average, a couple of healthy, and one with measles, say, 15 healthy.
If we want to create a truly militant virus, we need to take the mechanisms of measles spread and "pick up" pieces from, say, HIV to them. So that one infects 15 and that at the first stage this cannot be cured at all. It is also advisable to raise the rate of HIV development so that AIDS starts in six months (so as not to wait long), and not in years, as it is today. It will be an ideal epidemic: the whole world will become infected without even noticing any problems (long incubation period), and only months later, the masses of the population will begin to die from immunodeficiency.
With all the attractiveness of such a scheme, we immediately want to warn young anarchists who will run to submit documents to the biology department of Moscow State University: firstly, they will not teach you this, we do not have the strongest scientific school in the direction of creating new viruses. We are not China or the United States. Secondly, there is no need to rush there too: we, people, are not yet so good at making combat viruses.
Take the same 2015 chimeric virus. Do you think that cunning scientists used some kind of nanoscissors to cut the RNA of viruses, forcing them to "transfer" to human and ordinary mouse cells? Nothing of the kind. A serial passage was used - or, in human terms, the infusion of capsids of bat viruses on the cells of the respiratory tract of a normal, non-volatile mouse. Some of the viruses were able to reproduce there, some were not. So over time, we got the virus needed for laboratory research.
In theory, you can try to make the virus by genetic manipulation methods, and not just such a variant of "natural selection in the laboratory." But, firstly, it will be noticeable: genes from different viruses will not be chaotically scattered throughout the genome, but will form "blocks" - large pieces showing similarities with the "progenitor" viruses. The new coronavirus does not have such "blocks". Secondly, at the present stage of the development of genetics, this is a hell of a difficult job - for the new Einstein, but only with a biological education. Thirdly, it will require a lot of time and effort, but not the fact that it will end in success at all.
Finally, the purpose is not clear. An anarchist who went to the biofacies does not steer the financing of large laboratories, and without them such a miracle virus cannot be assembled. The government of this or that country is able to sponsor this, but why? To inevitably infect your own population? In theory, it is possible to make a truly powerful virus that does not selectively infect carriers of certain genotypes. For example, if you use Y-chromosomal haplogroups as a means of recognizing "friend or foe" (we note right away: the current coronavirus has no selectivity even close).
But genetically pure peoples almost do not exist. If you make a virus that does not infect, say, half of the Russians, then it will likewise not infect half of the Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles and East Germans (half of all these peoples belong to the same haplogroup). And then what is the meaning of such "selectivity"?
Not a biological bomb and hardly even just a leak
So the picture is pretty simple. The current coronavirus carries no traces of laboratory work on it. Not in 2015, not later. In theory, it could have been developed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but only on the basis of a virus from a real wild bat. And not complicated work on genes, but a banal "run" through human tissues - up to the adaptation of the virus to "grab" the ACE2 protein.
But even then, in no case can we talk about sabotage: successful scientists love life, and none of them will deliberately detonate a bomb in their own home. Yes, accidental leakage is possible, but unlikely.
Let's take the same "Vector": one of its employees in the 1990s contracted the Marburg virus, for which they were training protection. But he did not leave the laboratory. In the same way, the smallpox virus, which has been stored in "Vector" for a very long time, did not come out of there. But this is not some kind of coronavirus for you: an outbreak of smallpox in our time, when all around is full of unvaccinated youth, can cause millions of deaths around the world. However, there was no leak. Because of this, we doubt that the new virus could have leaked from virologists in Wuhan as well. It does not seem that the Chinese scientists are much more careless than the Russian ones.