The first ever Wuhan lab conspiracy theorist was Shi Zheng-li, aka Batwoman, a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. According to an interview published in Scientific American, when she first got the call from WIV, she was at a seminar in Shanghai. It was the Director of the lab: “Drop whatever you are doing and deal with this now.”
Shi Zheng-li caught the first train back to Wuhan. On the journey her mind was churning:
“I wondered if [the municipal health authority] got it wrong. I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China.”
To the world’s leading expert in SARS-like bat viruses (she discovered the bat virus believed to be the source of SARS), it just didn’t add up. If there was going to be a new SARS-like outbreak, she’d pegged Guangdong or Yunan in the south of China as the most likely places given that’s where the major populations of coronavirus-carrying bats lived - not 1000km away in Wuhan city. Her first thoughts were:
“Could they have come from our lab?”
Which begs the question as to why scientists get so worked up by anyone speculating that the Wuhan labs might have been the source? Even Batwoman - who actually worked there - instinctively thought it was the most likely explanation.
Back at the lab they went to work on identifying the virus’s genome sequence. They extracted samples from 7 patients - 5 were identified as coronavirus - then sent them to another facility to determine the cells' exact RNA (aka DNA).
“Meanwhile she frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, especially during disposal.”
The article doesn’t detail the results of this audit but 3 days later the results from the genome sequencing were in. On Feb 3, Shi Zheng-li’s WIV team published a paper to announce their findings:
“2019-nCoV was highly similar throughout the genome to RaTG13, with an overall genome sequence identity of 96.2%. (F)or all sequences—RaTG13 is the closest relative of 2019-nCoV and they form a distinct lineage from other SARSr-CoVs.”
RaTG13 is a horseshoe (rhinolophus) bat virus that was collected from a cave in Yunan by an intrepid team of researchers from WIV, including Shi Zheng-li.
In addition they reported that the virus had jumped directly from bats to humans, with no intermediate host, which directly conflicts with the pangolin theory (espoused by Andersen et al). Finally they “confirmed”:
“2019-nCoV uses the same cell entry receptor—angiotensin converting enzyme II (ACE2)—as SARS-CoV.”
That’s interesting - coz in 2008 WIV conducted an experiment that inserted a SARS S sequence into a bat virus to enable ACE-2 binding. According to that paper:
“ACE2-binding activity of SL-CoVs was easily acquired by the replacement of a relatively small sequence segment of the S protein from the SARS-CoV S sequence.”
That was 2008. From what i can ascertain, that experiment to insert a SARS sequence into SL-Covs was not conducted on the RaT13 strain. But Professor Edward Holmes - co-author of the Proximal Origin paper confirmed that RaT13 was later kept at WIV.
In a curious interview with the Financial Times, he says in one breath that there was “no evidence” that Sars-Cov-2 … originated in a Wuhan laboratory, but in the next he says “the closest known relative of Sars-Cov-2 was a bat virus named RaTG13, which was indeed kept at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
According to Professor Holmes, RaTG13, despite being 96.2% identical, “had a level of genome sequence divergence from coronavirus equivalent to at least 20-50 years of evolutionary change (through natural mutations). Thus, he does not believe it was responsible for Covid-19.”
This is interesting on two levels. Firstly, when Shi Zheng-li discovered a bat virus in Yunan “with a genomic sequence nearly 97 percent identical to the one found in civets in Guangdong, the finding concluded a decade-long search for the natural reservoir of the SARS coronavirus.”
So “nearly 97%” is conclusive but 96.2% is “no evidence”? Holmes then co-authors Proximal Origins claiming pangolins were the likely source of Covid-19 on the grounds of a 91% match. (cont. next post)