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US COVID origins report: researchers pleased with scientific approach

분류 국외뉴스 > 과학 등록일 2021-09-02
출처 nature 조회 100
첨부파일
내용바로가기 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02366-0
 
US COVID origins report: researchers pleased with scientific approach
     
Scientific expertise
  
The US government has been considering COVID-19 origins ever since the pandemic began - but there have been disagreements between and within agencies, as made clear by recent reporting from Buzzfeed and other outlets. During the administration of former president Donald Trump, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and some other State Department officials argued that the virus was the product of Chinese government manipulation, and a potential biological weapon. But in April last year, the intelligence community issued a statement that “the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified”.
 
This June, Christopher Ford, who was a high-level state department official in the Trump administration, posted an article on the website Medium expressing discontent with what he felt were hasty conclusions that his colleagues had drawn without consulting scientific experts. The piece links to a 4 January e-mail to his colleagues, now in the public domain, in which he writes: “Why hasn’t it been possible to get third-party experts together - folks with real bioscience chops … who can assess the worrying things you say you’ve found?” He adds, “We need to make sure what we say is solid and passes muster from real experts before we risk embarrassing and discrediting ourselves in public.”
 
Biden asked the intelligence community to look into both the lab- and natural-origin hypotheses, while bringing scientists into the investigation. Today’s one-page report reveals that the National Intelligence Council and four intelligence groups leant towards COVID-19 stemming from a person naturally infected by an animal. One group leant towards a release from a lab accident, partly on the basis of the “inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses”, and three other groups were undecided. The report, which did not disclose the identities of the groups, says that more information is required. “China’s cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19,” it reads, adding that Beijing resists sharing information.
 
Finer details of what the intelligence agencies assessed remain unknown to the public. According to an anonymous source who spoke to CNN, some of the intelligence community’s probe was directed at a “trove” of genetic sequences from viruses associated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Garry has not seen such data, but speculates that the sequences could have been extracted from the cloud-based data systems. Typically, gene-sequencing machines automatically upload massive amounts of data to the cloud, which researchers can remotely access and analyse. That the report is inconclusive, says Garry, might indicate that investigators did not find a SARS-CoV-2 sequence dating from before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, or a very similar sequence suggesting that researchers might have genetically tweaked an existing virus to create the pathogen circulating today.
 
Relman, however, says that it’s hard to draw conclusions without more information on the type of data the agents obtained, and their process.