Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, a top vaccine researcher who led the Australian team, said the pathogen was “not typical of a normal zoonotic [animal to human] infection” because it presented the “exceptional” ability to access human bodies from day one. He said the virus could have been transmitted by an animal in “a freak event of nature,” but the theory that it had originated in a laboratory should not be dismissed.
Prof Petrovsky is professor of medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide and leads a biotech research unit that will begin human trials for a coronavirus vaccine next month.
“I haven’t seen a zoonotic virus that has behaved in this way before,” he said.
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday he said new viruses being transmitted by animals usually strengthen as they accommodate to human hosts.
However, for unknown reasons, the novel coronavirus appears perfectly prepared to infect humans without the need to adapt.
He said the most similar known viruses are being investigated in a laboratory in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus was first found to have infected humans.
He indicated that the possibility of a leak should not be ruled out in the investigation into its genesis.
“The implications may not be good for scientists or global politics, but just because the answers might cause problems, we can’t run away from them,” he added.
“There is currently no evidence of a leak but enough circumstantial data to concern us. It remains a possibility until it is ruled out.”
“But there is no basis to say a high probability.”
Last week, the MoS revealed details of a key research opposing China’s claims that the pandemic originated in a Wuhan animal market in December.
The research, posted on Cornell University’s website but not yet peer-reviewed, observed the ability to hook onto to human cells was far broader its ability in other species.
“This indicates Sars-CoV-2 is a highly adapted human pathogen,” it said, “raising questions as to whether it arose in nature by a rare chance event or whether its origins lie elsewhere.”
Prof Petrovsky said it seemed “very unusual” for an “exquisitely human adaptive virus” to have unexpectedly been transmitted from an animal to human hosts last year.
“This is either a remarkable coincidence or a sign of human intervention,” he said.
“It is possible the virus was a fluke event and it turns out humans were the perfect host.
“But we don’t have evidence for this because no one has found this virus in an intermediate host animal [for example pangolin] yet.
“No one can say a laboratory leak is not a possibility.”
Published at Sat, 23 May 2020 23:37:00 +0000