MYTH: SARS-CoV-2 was invented in a lab
FACT: All available evidence indicates SARS-CoV-2 evolved naturally in animals before infecting humans
By: Joseph Osmundson
Last updated: May 18, 2020
One of the enduring conspiracy theories that has emerged since COVID-19 spread around the world is that the virus did not evolve naturally to enter human hosts, but that it was a product of purposeful laboratory design and/or an accidental release from a coronavirus research lab.
All current evidence points to these theories being false. The sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is closely related (97% identical) to another coronavirus that resides in bats, a known coronavirus reservoir. It’s much more related to this naturally existing virus than to either SARS-CoV-1 or the MERS virus, which we know can transmit in humans. Any likely research or development of a virus for transmission in humans would not use a distant relative of a bat coronavirus, but would likely begin with a virus known to transmit in humans.
While it’s more difficult to rule out an accidental lab release, a recent study identified a virus in pangolins that has 100% match for one proteins in SARS-CoV-2, suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 arose from co-infection and recombination of a pangolin and bat virus. Previous research on bat coronaviruses would therefore not be a possible source for a lab leak of SARS-CoV-2.
Further, researchers looked directly at this question and determined that the only explanation for the evolution of the viral spike protein, which binds to human receptors, was through natural selection. This rules out the possibility of bioengineering to develop the SARS-CoV-2 virus now spreading worldwide. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the most cruel designer of a deadly virus is evolution itself.