The CoviD-19 Saga: The Bioweapon Conspiracy

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Is it? No it’s not.

Why do you think people flock around outrageous claims such as this?

Because it is easier to digest.

It is embedded in human nature to always find something to blame for a predicament. A toxic trait. That’s how the CoviD 19 crises initially triggered a slew of xenophobia and racism. People are afraid of what they don’t understand and resort to emotions and popular media rather than evidence, because it is easier. It creates a sense of comfort, yet in this day and age, ignorance is dangerous.

An outbreak is usually accompanied by talks on bioweapons or a lab accident. Ebola was popular in this context. The scientific community can also fall prey to this. These kinds of conspiracy theories thrive on our fears of the uncertain, on our tendency to demand absolute proof that something is not the case—and it’s difficult to prove something 100 percent false. Even scientists can get sucked into this: During the Ebola outbreak, scientists tried to address concerns about the Ebolavirus “becoming airborne,” a theory based on the argument that because no one could prove it absolutely couldn’t happen, we should act as if it was happening.

Ebola is not airborne.

Evidence of SARS CoV 2’s Natural Origins:

Using sophisticated bioinformatics tools, a team of experts compared publicly available genomic data from several coronaviruses, including the new one that causes COVID-19. Coronaviruses got their name because of their distinctive crown like appearance, and the researchers began to locate parts that encode for these crowns, specifically their individual spike proteins that make the virus up.

Coronavirus spikes are important as these are their methods for infecting cells, and over time these spikes are fashioned differently because these viruses mutate and evolve. These changes are identifiable in their genomes. The studies show that the spike proteins of Sars-CoV-2 had adaptations that make it significantly have an affinity to a specific protein on human cells called angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE2). Similarly the old SARS virus also seek out ACE2 but with lesser affinity.

Computer simulation models predicted that the new coronavirus would not bind to ACE2 but it did, likely because of natural selection on ACE2 that enabled the virus to take advantage of a previously unidentified alternate binding site. This provides strong evidence that that new virus was not the product of purposeful manipulation in a lab. In fact, any bioengineer trying to design a coronavirus that threatened human health probably would never have chosen this particular conformation for a spike protein.

The researchers analyzed the data of the overall molecular structure or backbone of the new coronavirus and discovered that it resembles that of a bat coronavirus. However the region that binds ACE2 resembles that from a novel coronavirus found in pangolins, non however is a 100% match to either which makes some other researchers suggest that the new coronavirus is a natural chimera – if the new coronavirus had been manufactured in a lab, scientists would have used the molecular structures of viruses already known to cause serious illnesses in humans.

Based on data on the other outbreaks, the virus most likely evolved and / or mutated from its natural hosts and made jumps from species to species, and using recombination, sort of “married” and integrated with the elements of the coronavirus from the species it jumped on. SARS jumped from bats to civet cats before infecting humans while MERS jumped to humans from Camels. The process could take years, even decades of gradual evolutionary changes and natural selection, it could be possible that the virus had already jumped to human hosts before but didn’t cause any illnesses and thus remained unnoticed until it had evolved to gain the ability of causing serious illness and human to human transmission.

A Chimera of Nature

RaTG13 a coronavirus strain was isolated from a bat of the Rhinolophus affinis species from China’s Yunnan Province, described as notably similar to SARS-CoV-2, with a 96% similarity in genome sequence; nearly identical.  This lead to conclude that bats were it’s natural reservoir – which means it mainly lives there and does not affect the bat in anyway.

A recent study that is currently under review shows an isolated coronavirus from Malaysian pangolins which are even less similar to SARS-CoV-2, with only 90% genomic overlap – refuting previous claims that this is the virus ravaging the world. However the pangolin virus showed an incredible 99% similarity specific to the region of the S protein, corresponding to 74 amino acids related to the ACE (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2) receptor binding domain; the one with which the virus enters human cells to infect them.

Contrasting with this, the RaTG13 virus isolated from the R. affinis bat diverges significantly from that specific region (roughly 77% similarity, markedly lower). This means the coronavirus isolated from the pangolin can enter human cells, but the one from the R. affinis bat cannot.

Additionally, this extensive comparison analysis suggests the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the result of recombination between two separate and distinct viruses — one close to RaTG13, and the other closer to the virus isolated in the pangolin.

Put simply, the COVID-19 causing coronavirus is a chimera between two other pre-existing viruses. For this to have happened, two distinct viruses need to infect the same organism simultaneously. While we don’t know which animal (a pangolin, a bat, or some other species) played host to the chimeric mix, nor under what conditions the recombination took place, we’re moving gradually closer to solving the mystery of where and how the novel coronavirus came to be.

Laboratory Accident

Those who still want to put someone to blame but are smart enough to know that the bioweapon conspiracy is bonkers now turn to claims that the spread of SARS CoV 2 was a result of a lab accident – while the virus was indeed natural, they claim that genomes of bat coronaviruses being researched on Wuhan accidentally jumped into scientists and coincidentally those same scientists have been infected by a novel one that caused it’s mutation.

It’s hard to formulate such a case especially with how laboratories work on preserving sterility and updating their safety measures every now and then.

People would then like to add up claims that China already had a cure. (another false information) and are very well prepared because of the fast constructions of hospitals and the state is said to use this virus as a means to cripple the world economy, which is still in the lines of the bioweapon story and is also false.

While laboratory accidents do happen, the safety protocols taken before and after such accident prevent a lab specimen to turn into outbreaks. With this in mind, do note that the coronavirus that is plaguing the world is also new and thus a lab borne specimen would have been identified quickly and measures to contain it quickly done. A genetically engineered virus, meanwhile, would have identifiable structures in their genome that would state that they were mechanically inserted and groomed in a lab. The world now knows its structure and it’s nothing we’ve seen before.

Sars Cov 2’s configuration is random, unsurprisingly proving it evolved naturally.

While debunking all of this information is crucial, it does not defend the Chinese state in any way. Fighting misinformation and focusing on evidence will keep us in line with our goal in eradicating the virus, while also clearing the way for the global community to see the true faults of governments.

There is no need of a bioweapon or a laboratory accident to rule out the massive complacency of the Chinese state in dealing with the virus, costing the lives of their doctors in the process. There is no need of a villain to see that the world governments have lapses in fighting this pandemic due to years of non-reliance and budget cuts on the health and science sectors.

We don’t need to create more villains when we already have leaders who have the power to prevent the onslaught of such diseases, yet remain complacent till it’s too late. There are real enemies within and above us more frightening then fake stories of bioweapons or lab accidents. The moment we stop believing in misinformation is the moment we can focus on pointing our fingers to those who really need to answer for the deaths of our brothers and sisters.

Complacency and incompetent leadership.

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