Wuhan Institute of Virology is one of China’s leading research centres and has been the subject of ..
June 8: This article has been substantially updated to reflect criticism of the published study, along with the general scientific consensus on Covid-19. It also clarifies Sørensen’s financial interest in the development of the Biovacc-19 coronavirus vaccine. This context did not appear in the original post.
New claims that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was engineered have been dismissed by scientific and intelligence experts.
The authors of a British-Norwegian vaccine study—accepted by the Quarterly Review of Biophysics—claim that the coronavirus’s spike protein contains sequences that appear to be artificially inserted.
In their paper, the Norwegian scientist Birger Sørensen and British oncologist Angus Dalgleish claim to have identified “inserted sections placed on the SARS-CoV-2 spike surface” that explains how the virus interacts with cells in the human body. Virologists, however, note that similar sections appear naturally in other viruses.
Sir Richard Dearlove, who was head of MI6 from 1999 to 2004, told the Daily Telegraph that Sørensen and Dalgleish’s research shows that the pandemic may have started at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. He added that he thought it unlikely to have been released deliberately, but that China had clearly tried to cover up the release.
Since the coronavirus took hold in the United States, senior officials in the Trump administration have amplified rumors that the virus emerged from a virology lab in Wuhan. However, public health researchers have traced the earliest recorded cases of the virus to an animal market in the city.
Management at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have previously told Chinese state television that such claims were “total fabrication” and that the lab had not encountered SARS-CoV-2 until samples from patients with an then unidentified pneumonia-like disease were referred to them in December.
Scientific claims questioned
Sørensen and Dalgleish’s work contradicts the international scientific consensus that although the coronavirus pandemic originated in Wuhan, there is no evidence that it had been artificially engineered.
An analysis of the first 41 Covid-19 patients published in medical journal the Lancet found that in 27 cases, there had been direct exposure to the Wuhan market, although not with the first known case. The World Health Organization has since released guidance to those working in and visiting such markets, to reduce animal-human transmission of emerging pathogens.
The report’s authors also claim the lack of mutation in the virus since its discovery, suggests it was already fully adapted to humans. However, there have been several published studies noting evolution and mutation among SARS-CoV-2 strains.
Sørensen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the virus has properties that differ greatly from SARS, another coronavirus, and have never been detected in nature. He claimed that China and the United States have collaborated for many years on coronavirus research through “gain of function” studies, in which the pathogenicity or transmissibility of potential pandemic pathogens can be enhanced in order to understand them better.
Gunnveig Grødeland works as a vaccine researcher at the University of Oslo. In a rebuke of the original interview, she told NRK that what Sørensen referred to as inserted sequences cannot be taken as evidence of a non-natural origin: “You will find this in several other viruses as well, including HIV. We have also seen something similar in other coronaviruses.”
Other leading voices in the scientific community and fight against the pandemic has dismissed claims that the coronavirus was man-made. Anthony Fauci, director of U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has stated there is no scientific evidence for the claims, while leading researchers from the World Health Organization and Galveston National Laboratory also dismissed the rumours.
The report was allegedly previously rejected
The Telegraph claimed that the study was initially rejected by several academic journals, including “Nature” and “Journal of Virology,” which indicates they considered the article unsuitable for publication. Sørensen claimed the original study tied the vaccine development to the origin research, and that they have since split the research. He claimed a second study with more details on the origin of the virus will be published soon.
The report published in the Quarterly Review of Biophysics explains the rationale for the development of Biovacc-19, a candidate vaccine for COVID-19 that is now in advanced preclinical development. Sørensen has a financial interest in Immunor, the Norwegian company behind the vaccine.
I was born in the U.K. but moved to Norway in 2011 and haven’t looked back. I run a website and podcast for fellow expats, authored the Moon Norway travel guidebook, help Norwegian companies with their English, and spend my free time touring the country to discover more about the people and places of this unique corner of the world. I write for Forbes with an outsider’s inside perspective on Norway & Scandinavia.