Having been permanently banned from Twitter for sharing the publicly-available details of the man who ran the show as far as bat-soup virology in Wuhan’s super-secret bio-lab – which is now a common talking point and rapidly shifting from conspiracy theory to conspiracy fact – we thought a reminder of how we got here was in order…
Scott Burke, CEO of crypto-related firm Groundhog, unleashed what we feel may be the most complete timelines of facts to help understand the controversial links between COVID-19 and HIV, and COVID-19 and Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Want to go down a (strictly fact-based) rabbit hole?
Here is the full slightly-edited-for-formatting twitter thread…
A disclaimer: I am not a virologist. This is me synthesizing what we have learned since the outbreak began and reviewing public scientific papers. I believe each of the following statements is a solid fact, backed up by a citation.
I also want to say that I understand some people are worried about blame being cast for this outbreak. Obviously we are all in this together, and my intention here is not to cast blame. These links overwhelmingly compel further scrutiny, but are not conclusive.
I do think however that information is being downplayed and suppressed by some scientists and media outlets and it’s our duty to find out the facts about this virus, do what we can to mitigate the outbreak, and prevent it from happening again.
So there’s original SARS, which is a type of coronavirus. SARS infects cells through the ACE2 receptor in hosts.
The S spike protein plays a key role in how the virus infects cells. Each of the little spikes that surround the coronavirus is a spike protein (or S protein). That’s what gives the coronavirus it’s name – it’s “crown” of these spikes.
The S protein binds to the targeted cell through the ACE2 receptor, and boom, your cell is infected and becomes a virus replication factory.
After the first SARS outbreak, there was a “land rush” to find other coronaviruses. A collection of SARS-*like* coronaviruses was isolated in several horseshoe bat species over 10 years ago, called SARS-like CoVs, or SL-CoVs. Not SARS exactly, but coronaviruses similar to SARS.
In 2007, a team of researchers based in Wuhan, in conjunction with an Australian laboratory, conducted a study with SARS, a SARS-like coronavirus, and HIV-1.
The researchers noted that if small changes were made to the S protein, it broke how SARS-CoV worked – it could no longer go in via ACE2. So they inferred the S protein was critical to the SARS attack vector.
They also predicted based on the S-ACE2 binding structure, that SARS-like CoVs were not able to use this same attack method (ACE2 mediation).
They decided to create a pseudovirus where they essentially put a SARS-like CoV in a HIV envelope.
Using an HIV envelope, they replaced the RBD (receptor binding domain) of SL-CoV with that of SARS-CoV, and used it to successfully infect bats through ACE2 mediation.
12 years goes by…
A SARS-like CoV begins sweeping the globe that is far more infectious than previous outbreaks.
Ground Zero for this outbreak (not first human patient, but first spreading event) is considered to be Wuhan Seafood Market.
Wuhan Seafood Market is 20 miles from the National Biosafety Laboratory at Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Amidst the outbreak, a team of Indian bioinformatics specialists at Delhi University released a paper pre-print…
COVID-19 has a unique sequence about 1,378 nucleotide base pairs long that is not found in related coronaviruses. They claimed to identify genetic similarities in this unique material between COVID-19 and HIV-1.
Specifically, they isolated 4 short genetic sequences in key protein structures (the receptor binding domain, or RBD).
Two of the sequences were perfect matches (albeit, short), and two of the sequences were matched but each with an additional string of non-matching material appearing in the middle of the sequence.
The paper was criticized and numerous attempts have been made to debunk it. After the criticism, the authors voluntarily withdrew it, intending to revise it based on comments made about their technical approach and conclusions.
One key debunking attempt claims this:
The same sequences are found in a variant called BetaCoV/bat/Yunnan/RaTG13/2013, which had been found “in the wild” in bats.
This is an attempt to prove that it was not engineered, but mutated naturally in the wild.
But there’s a problem…
This strain was only known by and studied at the Wuhan Virology Institute, and although they claim it was discovered in 2013, it wasn’t published or shared with the scientific community until immediately after the Indian paper, on January 27, 2020.
The RatG13 strain publication and the HIV research paper from 2008 share an author.
I discovered this on my own by comparing the two papers and then quickly realized this scientist’s contact information was the information that ZeroHedge was suspended from Twitter for sharing.
Their article identifies this author in question including some contact information from the Wuhan Virology Institute web site.
You can read the public comments and discussion of the original paper here:
There is a line of inquiry about how the sequences are remarkably stable in between the “bat” CoV and the nCoV, where in nature they would likely have mutated in between their shared evolution. Also a call for greater scientific evidence that the strain was collected in the wild.
Here is the only point in this thread where I will offer my opinion rather than a list of facts: In light of all the previous facts, the efforts to debunk the paper are not yet convincing in my view.
The RaTG13 paper makes the claim that, oh, that HIV-related material you identified that happens to protein fold to become a perfect attack vector for nCoV to attack ACE2?
It’s a relative of this other secret virus which came from the wild which we forgot to tell the scientific community about until now for no reason.
Here’s the secret virus – it came from bats – and here’s the new virus, see, they have the same HIV-related sequences… so… bats!
Totally not secret pathogen research which escaped the lab.
What are the odds that a SARS-like coronavirus with overlapping genetics from HIV mutated and crossed over into humans, next door to a laboratory which had been enhancing coronavirus with HIV for over a decade? And conversely, what are the odds it leaked out of the laboratory?
* * *
Finally, there is a great thread here by Trevor Bedford (@trvrb) examining the evidence for and against, with key replies challenging the conclusions made as well.
There is a nice "Bayesian" way to compare theories and think about evidence. I'm showing the probability of observing the data at hand given different theories. We want to compare the likelihood of observing this data, compared to other outcomes consistent with a theory. 3/21 pic.twitter.com/HaiNvCVxUo
— Trevor Bedford (@trvrb) February 20, 2020
Let’s learn! What do you think? Maybe I’m wrong! Can anyone disprove any of the links in the chain above? One thing is for sure, the science behind all this is fascinating.
But we need to make sure that if viruses are being secretly developed and accidentally released, that we learn about that and do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again. @jonhoye @r_h_ebright @batresearch @nemopublius @JJ2000426