Jasper Hamill, Herald Scotland, Mar 18, 2020
A team of researchers including an expert in infectious diseases from Edinburgh University have published a report in the respected journal Nature Medicine exploring the origins of SARS-CoV-2, another name for the feared virus which causes Covid-19.
Both American and Chinese officials have raised questions about whether the virus was a manmade bioweapon, whilst Trump has dubbed it the "China virus".
"By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes," said Kristian Andersen, PhD, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and corresponding author on the paper.
Andrew Rambaut, a member of Edinburgh University's Institute of Evolutionary Biology, was a co-author on the report.
The team analysed the molecular structure of the virus, which is its "backbone".
They suggested that it cannot be an artificial creation because its structure "differed substantially from those of already known coronaviruses and mostly resembled related viruses found in bats and pangolins".
The researchers suggested that anyone looking to create a new coronavirus and use it as a bioweapon would probably have built it using the backbone of a virus that has already killed humans.
"Its distinct backbone rules out laboratory manipulation as a potential origin for SARS-CoV-2," Andersen added.
However, we still do not know exactly how the coronavirus came into being.
It may have "jumped" into a human from a pangolin, which is a mammal resembling an armadillo or even bats.
Previous coronavirus outbreaks were sparked by humans who had close contact with civets and camels.
It's not known whether the original form of Covid-19 was a deadly killer when it was lurking inside the bodies of other animal species or whether it evolved into its current dangerous form when a human contracted the virus.
Rambaut said "it is difficult if not impossible to know" the exact origins of the new coronavirus.
The virus has now killed three people in Scotland and infected 227. Globally, it's been caught by roughly 200,000 and resulted in at least 8,000 deaths.
Josie Golding, PhD, epidemics lead at the Wellcome Trust, said the findings are "crucially important to bring an evidence-based view to the rumours that have been circulating about the origins of the virus".
"They conclude that the virus is the product of natural evolution, ending any speculation about deliberate genetic engineering," she added.
A number of prominent politicians and officials have shared wild theories about the origins of Covid-19.
Lijian Zhao, spokesperson and deputy director-general at the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Information Department, tweeted: "It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.
"Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!"
US Senator Tom Cotton also suggested there was a chance if had been unleashed in a "deliberate release", although he also raised several other possibilities about its origin.
"These are "theories" and certainly not "conspiracy theories"," he tweeted.
"They are hypotheses that ought to be studied in light of the evidence, if the Chinese Communist Party would provide it.
Other world-famous politicians have also waded in to offer their own explanations about how the coronavirus came into being.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former president of Iran, tweeted: "It is clear to the world that the mutated coronavirus was produced in a lab, manufactured by the warfare stock houses of biological war belonging to world powers & that it constitutes a threat on humanity more destructive than the other weapons that target humanity."
Manish Tewari, an Indian member of the Indian National Congress and former Minister of Information and Broadcasting, tweeted: "CoronaVirus is a bio-weapon that went rogue or was made to go rogue. It is an act of terror."
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