Project News and Views
Published on Wed. July 15th in Independent Science News
Written by Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD
Synopsis: SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the current pandemic, is in many ways an enigma to virologists. First, the virus enters human cells using a viral spike protein that is a tremendous fit for its human receptor (a protein called ACE2). This close fit allows the virus to spread very efficiently between people but such precision cannot plausibly have arisen by chance. Thus the virus appears to have evolved in the presence of that human receptor. Furthermore, the virus has a region on its spike protein called a furin site. This furin site allows the virus to access multiple cell types, making it able to infect and spread through lungs and other tissue types. The furin site is thus key to making SARS-CoV-2 a powerful pathogen. Since none of the closest known virus relatives of SARS-CoV-2 have a furin site, where did it come from? Third, any virus that recently jumped to humans from bats (or any other species) should undergo a period of rapid adapation to its new host. This is what happened when the coronaviruses SARS and MERS jumped to humans. Yet since the pandemic began, SARS-CoV-2 mutations have arisen but the virus has hardly evolved (in an adaptive sense) at all. Current zoonotic origin theories for SARS-CoV-2 have no satisfactory explanation for any of these evolutionary puzzles. Indeed, recent studies have made natural zoonotic origin hypotheses even less viable. For example, the Chinese CDC has ruled out Wuhan’s live market as the epidemic’s origin.
In our search for the origins of the pandemic we focussed on the nearest genetic relative of SARS-CoV-2, a bat coronavirus called RaTG13. This virus was obtained during 2012 and 2013 virus collecting trips to a mine where, shortly before, six miners had developed a mystery illness while shoveling bat feces. To learn more, we arranged the translation of a neglected Chinese Master’s thesis that documented the symptoms and hospital treatment of these miners. This thesis contains many surprises. Foremost, the miners were diagnosed as having coronavirus infections, and second, their symptoms are now recognisable as those of classic COVID-19. This and other information in the thesis caused us to rethink everything we thought we knew about the origins of the pandemic. In A Proposed Origin for SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 Pandemic, we set out what we call the Mojiang Miners Passaging hypothesis. The theory proposes (1) that the miners acquired a coronavirus from the bats in the mine and (2) that this bat virus evolved extensively inside their bodies to become a highly human-adapted virus. This evolution occurred during a hospitalisation period that, for some of them, lasted many months. From the thesis we also know that blood and other samples were extracted from the miners and some of these were sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). We suggest that these samples contained highly human-adapted viruses and were used at the WIV for research. During this research the virus escaped, initiating the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic.
As we show, the theory solves the currently mysterious evolutionary and biological features of SARS-CoV-2 as well as explaining its eventual appearance in Wuhan. It also explains subsequent attempts to obscure the deaths of the miners and the Mojiang mine origin of RATG13.
To listen to the entire paper read out, you can go to Talking Papers: https://soundcloud.com/talkingpapers/proposed-origin-for-sarscov2
You can now search the Sanjour Hazardous Waste Papers in the UCSF Industry Documents Library. The Sanjour Hazardous waste Papers are the work files of famous EPA Whistleblower William Sanjour, who them to the Bioscience Resource Project for digitization. The digitized files were then shared with the UCSF Industry Documents Library.
About UCSF Industry Documents Library: Increasingly, connections are being made between tactics taken by the tobacco industry and other corporations that influence public health, particularly on the issues of food, climate change and pharmaceuticals. The Industry Documents Library is a portal to aid investigation about cross-industry corporate practices and this portal brings together the following archives: the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Drug Industry Documents, Chemical Industry Documents, Food Industry Documents, and Fossil Fuel Industry Documents.
More about the papers:
In 1974 William Sanjour was appointed branch chief at the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly formed Hazardous Waste Management Division. In this position, Sanjour had two principal responsibilities: 1) to research and document the environmental and human health problems associated with unregulated dumping of industrial hazardous waste, and 2) to research better and safer methods of treating and disposing of these wastes.
Sanjour supervised the drafting of regulations required to implement the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) but became increasingly concerned about industry interference and pressure on the EPA. In 1978, Sanjour became a whistle-blower to call out senior EPA officials’ efforts to weaken environmental protection regulations.
For over 20 years, Sanjour investigated and reported collusion and corruption at the EPA. He wrote articles, appeared in television and film documentaries, and testified multiple times before Congress. His knowledge and experiences have been influential in the passage of State and Federal laws governing hazardous waste as well as protecting the rights of fellow civil servants to blow the whistle on corrupt activities.
This collection reflects the day-to-day evolution of important environmental regulations, viewed from inside the EPA, and shines a light on political and industry pressures on regulators, as well as the pressures brought to bear on whistle-blowers in an attempt to silence them.
The original documents were given to the Bioscience Resource Project which coordinated and funded digitization work. Digital copies were contributed to the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Archive in 2018.
Materials in this collection include:
- Sanjour’s memos to file
- communications within the Hazardous Waste Division
- memos from industrial sources and trade associations
- communications from Congress
- contact with citizen groups
- Congressional hearings
- news clippings
Special thanks to the UCSF Library Access Services staff, who provided valuable assistance in processing this collection.
Search the UCSF collection here:
Published today (Tues, June 2nd, 2020) on Independent Science News, “The Case Is Building That COVID-19 Had a Lab Origin,” by Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD.
To read the full article go to: https://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/the-case-is-building-that-covid-19-had-a-lab-origin/
Published Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 on Independent Science News: “The Long History of Accidental Laboratory Releases of Potential Pandemic Pathogens Is Being Ignored In the COVID-19 Media Coverage“, a new article by Sam Husseini.
Synopsis: Most of the media is treating the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic might have been the result of a lab escape as a wild and reckless accusation. Yet there is a long and extensive history of Potential Pandemic Pathogens (PPPs) escaping from labs all over the world. H1NI flu, for example, is now considered to have been a lab escape as was the UK’s Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) virus outbreak of 2007. Most of these escape events and their consequences are virtually unknown outside of their specialist fields, however. This article provides an overview.
The author, Sam Husseini, is an independent journalist. Read the full article at: https://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/the-long-history-of-accidental-laboratory-releases-of-potential-pandemic-pathogens/.
Published Friday April 24th, 2020 by Independent Science News: Did this Virus Come from a Lab? Maybe Not — But it Exposes the Threat of a Biowarfare Arms Race, a new article by Sam Husseini, an independent journalist.
The Bioscience Resource Project provides scientific and intellectual resources for a healthy future. It publishes Independent Science News, a media service devoted to food and agriculture, and their impacts on health and the environment. It also offers resources for scientists and educators and internships and training for students. Through its innovative scientific journalism and original biosafety review articles, the project provides unique and revealing perspectives on issues that are fundamental to the survival of people and the planet. The project does not accept advertising or corporate funding and is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. It is completely dependent on individual donations.
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