The coronavirus was likely made in a lab, according to the latest explosive study to shed light on the possible origins of the pandemic.
Researchers in the US and Germany studied Covid’s genome — the virus’ instruction manual — and compared it to dozens of previously detected coronaviruses.
‘Peculiar patterns’ were visible in the building blocks of the pandemic-causing virus, which they say are hallmark signs that it was manufactured. The team described it as having a ‘synthetic fingerprint’.
Study author Dr Alex Washburne, a mathematical biologist, said the lab leak theory can’t be ruled out based on the results of his controversial study.
Each test his team performed ‘decreased the odds of SARS-CoV-2 having a natural origin’, he said.
However, Dr Washburne noted his team don’t identify which lab that was the source of the outbreak and insisted that the virus looks more ‘like an accident’ rather than a ‘bioweapon’.
Some experts called the results ‘troubling’ and claimed they offered the ‘strongest piece of evidence’ yet that the virus was man-made.
But dozens of others, including leaders in the field, have hit out at the findings, sparking a fierce row. One virologist said the research is ‘so deeply flawed that it wouldn’t pass kindergarten molecular biology’.
Another said the study was ‘very poorly controlled, cherry-picked and making a big deal out of lumps and bumps that are of no significance to the virus’. One described it as ‘tinfoil-hat bonkers’.
The study is the latest addition to the fierce argument around how the virus came to sweep the world in 2020.
Most leading virologists believe the coronavirus jumped to humans from an infected animal, potentially in the ‘ground zero’ wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Others think it leaked from a secretive laboratory in the same city. Whether or not it was deliberate or accidental is an even more contentious part of the ‘lab leak’ theory.
Scientists argue it is vital to find out the origins of the virus so steps can be taken to prevent future pandemics. But many doubt the root source of the pandemic will ever be uncovered, with China accused of trying to conceal investigations.