A recently published document reveals “smoking gun” evidence of COVID-19’s lab-based origin, according to Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers and one of the earliest proponents of the lab leak hypothesis.
Ebright is referring to an invoice that shows an order for a particular enzyme that he believes scientists used to stitch together the genome for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, Alina Chan, a microbiologist affiliated with MIT and Harvard and co-author of Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19, says that because the documents in questions are from early 2018, they do not constitute direct evidence, meaning there still “isn’t enough to say a lab accident happened beyond reasonable doubt.”
Emily Kopp, a science and health reporter working for the public health watchdog group U.S. Right to Know, obtained and published this latest batch of documents—which she obtained through a FOIA request to the U.S. Geological Survey—on January 18. The more than 1,400 pages are communications about and early drafts of the DEFUSE proposal, a grant application seeking funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to collect and manipulate bat-borne viruses. EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S.-based nonprofit group, authored the grant, which they proposed as a collaboration between U.S.-based virologists and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the lab located in the city where the first known cases of COVID-19 appeared. DARPA ultimately rejected the proposal as too risky, but critics like Ebright believe that the work likely continued on in Wuhan anyway.
Kopp joined Reason‘s Zach Weissmueller to discuss the documents on the latest episode of Just Asking Questions. Also joining them was mathematical biologist Alex Washburne, who co-authored a pre-print in October 2022 arguing the genome of SARS-CoV-2 had a “fingerprint” indicating that it was created in a lab. The virus that scientists proposed creating in the newly released DEFUSE documents shares several characteristics that Washburne and his colleagues flagged in the study, such as unusually uniform segment lengths and the presence of the enzyme that Ebright flagged as a “smoking gun.”
In this conversation, they discuss the documents in detail, the ways in which they validate predictions in Washburne’s paper, the remaining unknowns in the COVID origin case, comments from EcoHealth Alliance founder Peter Daszak seemingly downplaying that most of the proposed virology work would be done in China, and the difficulty of getting the scientific and media establishments to take new evidence pointing to a lab origin seriously.
Watch the full conversation on Reason‘s YouTube channel or on the Just Asking Questions podcast feed on Apple, Spotify, or your preferred podcatcher.
Sources referenced in this conversation:
U.S. Right to Know: U.S. scientists proposed to make viruses with unique features of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan
DEFUSE: PREEMPT Volume 1 no ESS HR00118S0017 EcoHealth Alliance DEFUSE
Endonuclease fingerprint indicates a synthetic origin of SARS-CoV-2 | bioRxiv
New Research Points to Wuhan Market as Pandemic Origin | The New York Times
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic | Science
House Minority Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Report on Origins of COVID-19 Pandemic