A highly regarded professor at Harvard Medical School writes from Cambridge:
The argument that the COVID pandemic resulted from a spillover of SARS-CoV-2 from a natural reservoir has always relied on the claim that scientists don’t know enough to change previously known coronavirus sequences into SARS-CoV-2 intentionally. That is true, but it relies on the assumption that we know about all of the sequences that were being manipulated in Wuhan.
This new BiorXiv paper shows conclusively that we don’t. As described by Matt Ridley, by looking through the “off-target” sequences in a rice genome project, Jones et al., were able to find a previously unknown MERS-related coronavirus vector. In other words, not just viral sequence, but viral sequence that was set up to be genetically manipulated. Not only that, but they found evidence that this virus was being used in intentional gain-of-function work.
The data are going to be incredibly difficult for the “nothing-to-see-here” crowd to dismiss. Previously, it could be argued that the gain-of-function results from the WIV were unanticipated and thus not intentional. Here, a known-active spike protein was grafted onto a new virus backbone. That is the definition of a gain-of-function experiment.
I wonder if work like that of Jones et al might have triggered the recent Department of Energy announcement. I also wonder what else might be discovered on the cutting-room floor of other sequencing projects.