Vaccinated and unvaccinated should take common cause on the need for biotech controls.
A preprint paper published by bioRxiv Endonuclease fingerprint indicates a synthetic origin of SARS-CoV-2 confirms what we have been reporting throughout the year—the lab-leak origin is very highly likely. The paper is technical but includes a lay summary. You can also follow one of the authors, Dr. Alex Washburne, on Twitter where a lively scientific argument is taking place.
In essence, the laboratory editing and reassembly of viral material involves in vitro genome assembly (IVGA) utilising special enzymes known as restriction enzymes. To create a viable novel engineered virus, each added sequence needs to have sticky ends added. You could imagine these are analogous to the couplings between carriages of a train. This relates to the need to efficiently stitch together engineered segments. Each joint leaves a genetic signature in the final virus at the rejoined ends of each reassembled segment. The presence and regularity of these signature joins serve as fingerprints of in vitro genome assembly. The authors report:
“We found that SARS-CoV has the restriction site fingerprint that is typical for synthetic viruses. The synthetic fingerprint of SARS-CoV-2 is anomalous in wild coronaviruses, and common in lab-assembled viruses. The type of mutations (synonymous or silent mutations) that differentiate the restriction sites in SARS-CoV-2 are characteristic of engineering, and the concentration of these silent mutations in the restriction sites is extremely unlikely to have arisen by random evolution. Both the restriction site fingerprint and the pattern of mutations generating them are extremely unlikely in wild coronaviruses and nearly universal in synthetic viruses. Our findings strongly suggest a synthetic origin of SARS-CoV2.”
Lab origin 99.98% certain
The authors estimate that this could have happened by chance through natural mutation in an animal host to be less than 0.0002. In other words, they show that their analysis supports the laboratory origin of Covid-19 is 99.98%. Other researchers have reached similar conclusions independently.
This conclusion is in addition to other earlier findings that genetic segments of Covid-19 at the Furin cleavage spike protein site were known to biotech science pre-pandemic and had been used in laboratory experiments. Taken together, the findings point to Covid-19 being the result of gain of function research.
Gain of function research involves genetic manipulation of viruses to make them more infective and in some cases more deadly for humans. The stated aim of this research is to aid in the development of vaccines—an aim whose achievement has in practice proved very elusive.
One important point to note is that natural viral mutation in animal hosts is very common. Tens of thousands of novel viral types are created through natural mutation each year, but they very rarely result in a sustained spillover into wider animal populations or into human populations. Covid-19 however had additional, apparently engineered characteristics which caused a deadly pandemic. A pandemic which has resulted in millions of deaths worldwide.
The authors conclude:
“Understanding the origin of SARS-CoV-2 can guide policies and research funding to prevent the next pandemic. The probable laboratory origin suggested by our findings motivates improvements in global biosafety. Given the advances in biotechnology and the low cost of producing infectious clones, there is an urgent need for transparency on coronavirus research occurring prior to COVID-19, and global coordination on biosafety to reduce the risks of unintentional laboratory escape of infectious clones.”
Current Biotech Regulatory Controls Are Wholly Inadequate
The authors no doubt reach a sincere conclusion, but are improvements in lab biosafety sufficient to control pathogen escape? No. Lab escapes are inevitable. Global control of the types of research being undertaken is also necessary.
Gain of function research was briefly outlawed in the USA in 2014, but the ban was lifted in 2017. At the time, Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, said that gain-of-function studies “have done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemics — yet they risked creating an accidental pandemic”. He was entirely right, but no one listened to him.
On their own, biotechnologists are highly unlikely to regulate the scope of biotech research. Over 800,000 people work in the field in the USA alone. Entry level annual salaries start around US$85,000. This doubles if your work is relevant to medical research. Biotech CEO salaries rise to a peak of US$45 million. If you were working in the biotech field, would you limit research with such mouth watering funding?
National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) chair Samuel Stanley was one of those pleased that the three year gain of function moratorium ended in 2017. He felt it may have delayed research and reduced interest in research on deadly pathogens. “I believe nature is the ultimate bioterrorist and we need to do all we can to stay one step ahead,” he said at the time. He was wrong, research on deadly pathogens turned out to be the real ultimate threat. The new lab-origin study confirms this.
Philosophical biotech musings like Stanley’s often label nature as a dangerous terrorist waiting in the wings to destroy us all, while biotechnologists are described as (well paid) white knights selflessly working day and night to save our souls. This is to all intents and purposes a self-justifying fantasy designed to glorify a very risky profession whose possible end games, as we have seen all too clearly during the last three years, include genetic armageddon.
In fact we share a mutually beneficial co-evolutionary relationship with nature. We rely on a supportive epigenetic relationship with our natural food sources. Our health depends upon it. Research shows, for example, that five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables a day is protective against mortality from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease.
Biotech Research Has Become a Race to the Bottom
There is no doubt that there was a perception in the USA among some biotechnology researchers that they would fall behind if they stopped such gain of function research while those in other countries continued. The cessation of the US moratorium in 2017 initiated a biotech arms race that very quickly led to the outbreak of the pandemic and an precedented era of global mass death that is reducing human longevity worldwide.
The closure of the US moratorium was not absolute, there were stricter protocols of oversight instituted. They didn’t work. The US government funded offshore work in the Chinese Wuhan virology lab which effectively circumvented these protocols. Progress, outcomes, and safety couldn’t be policed effectively at a distance or even locally. There is even a suspicion that the arrangements were designed to circumvent regulation.
You must be getting the picture by now. Biotechnology is a huge scientific and commercial juggernaut involving the livelihood of millions of people and trillions of dollars. Biotech research is a fascinating field where newly minted biotechnologists can play God and be very well paid. It is being undertaken across international borders. It is driven by investment dollars coming from commercial, speculative, and government sources.
Nationally-based regulation has either failed or in many countries is completely absent. It is still failing. The authoritative Financial Times reports: US health officials probe Boston University’s Covid virus research. The FT reports evasion of controls on gain of function research is still apparently very simple. BU scientists engineered a Covid virus that killed 80% of mice. They were working under the radar:
“NIH said it had not reviewed the work before it went ahead, even though researchers were using government money.
“NIH is examining the matter to determine whether the research conducted was subject to the NIH grants policy statement or met the criteria for review under the [government’s guidelines for certain experiments with dangerous viruses],” a spokesperson said.
“Boston University said it did not have to alert NIH before carrying out the work because government money did not fund the experiments directly, although it was used for tools and techniques to carry them out.”
We now have fresh evidence of what went very wrong at Wuhan, and will go wrong again unless global controls are put in place.
These can’t involve easily circumvented regulatory systems like those which failed spectacularly in the past and are still failing. As long ago as 2014, a scholarly article estimated that the risk of a lab escape pandemic was unacceptably high. Effective controls have to involve outright bans on certain types of research.
Put aside for the moment the serious safety arguments surrounding the relative effects of Covid infection and vaccination, in a rather weird sense they are a side show to a much bigger danger which we all face.
Genetically engineered sequences in many research contexts, including medical applications, pose huge unquantified and uncontainable risks. They are potentially recombinative, highly mobile, impossible to contain, inherently mutagenic, and have been pathetically ineffective at achieving stated aims. If we don’t collectively deal with these risks we will become victims. In fact, we already are suffering from the result of lax controls.
BOTH THE VACCINATED AND UNVACCINATED NEED TO TAKE COMMON CAUSE AND CALL FOR AN END TO RISKY BIOTECHNOLOGY EXPERIMENTATION.
Campaign for Global Legislation Outlawing Biotechnology Experimentation — GLOBE
Sunday October 22nd, we are inaugurating a Campaign for Global Legislation Outlawing Biotechnology Experimentation—GLOBE. This will require cooperation between concerned doctors and scientists. It will involve a public and political education programme. It will necessitate global cooperation to bring an end to risky experimentation.
This is not for the faint hearted. We should not underestimate the difficulty of stopping a global biotech research endeavour. Effective control of biotechnology is also hampered by overlapping financial interests shared by biotech scientists, pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals, regulators, media owners, and politicians.
We have to understand that the current open ended nature of biotech research programmes is suicidal in character. A sea change is required. The commercial creators and funders of biotech research are putting themselves as well as everyone else at risk. We are collectively putting ourselves at huge risk by failing to act on controls. We have arrived at a crossroads. Our decisions now are formative for the chances of our survival. Therefore we have to take collective action. It is a matter of collective self-interest. There is no other way.
You can contribute to this effort. Alert individuals can register at our new website. Authors are invited to submit commentary and information. Telling points include:
- Labs can never be secure
- Pathogens cannot be contained
- Human genetic stability needs to be protected
See our new website’s About’ Campaign for Global Legislation Outlawing Biotechnology Experimentation page for an introduction to GLOBE.
Participants are invited from every nation.
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Or Contribute as an author.
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