Wuhan Institute of Virology
Photo: via www.imago-images.de / imago images / Kyodo News
In the discussion about a laboratory leak that may have led to the outbreak of the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic, Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore has now spoken out and corrected it.
The US biologist initially fueled the thesis of a laboratory virus when he stated in an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in May that part of the Sars-Cov-2 genome looked suspicious to him.
Baltimore spoke of a "smoking gun" in connection with the virus and saw evidence in the virus genome which, from his point of view, indicated that the virus could have been artificially modified and must accordingly have been created in a laboratory.
Now Baltimore, considered one of the pioneers in genetic engineering, has rowed back. According to media reports, he said that although he had been quoted correctly, he had exaggerated at the time. In an email he wrote to the science journal Nature, he is said to have admitted that natural evolution could also have produced Sars-Cov-2. At the time, he just wanted to say that there were other options and that they had to be carefully examined. Ultimately, however, it is difficult to find out whether genetic sequences of the virus were created naturally or through molecular manipulation, reports the LA Times.
Because the suspicion of Baltimore came from an informed mouth, the thesis of a laboratory accident in Wuhan, China spread quickly - many of them cited the assessment of the former president of the renowned California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Most recently, there were reports with references to US intelligence sources that three employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were treated as inpatients with symptoms similar to Covid-19 in November.
In this and another laboratory in Wuhan, research is carried out with bat viruses.
The WIV is said to have the largest collection of bat and other corona viruses in Asia.
The question of the origin of the pandemic is discussed again and again.
The World Health Organization (WHO) did not find any evidence of laboratory origin during its research in China.
However, there was also the suspicion that the expert commission might not have had access to all sources during its work.
In their last report, the experts assume that the virus developed in bats decades ago and then transmitted it to humans via a previously unknown intermediate host, possibly a pangolin.
However, the case is not yet closed for the WHO either, the hypothesis of a laboratory leak is to be investigated further.
Other scientists are calling for the same.
But some find it difficult or impossible to use genetic research to produce evidence.
Most recently, the US under President Joe Biden announced that it would carry out further investigations into the origin of the pandemic.
That could spark foreign policy tensions between the US and China.
The country's government had outraged any suspicions that the virus might have originated in a laboratory in Wuhan or that the origin of the pandemic might have something to do with research in the metropolis.