Top U.S. experts say science suggests COVID-19 came from a Wuhan lab leak

Two scientists say COVID-19 has genomes commonly found in modified viruses.

Two top scientists believe there is evidence that strongly suggests COVID-19 originated and was optimized in a lab in Wuhan, China.

Dr. Steven Quay, founder of Atossa Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, and Richard Muller, a former top scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, argue in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial arguing that scientific evidence points to a man-made COVID-19.

The pair argue that during gain-of-function research – the process that allows microbiologists to tweak a virus's genome to alter its properties such as lethality and transmission – certain pairs of genomes are more likely to occur naturally while others are rare and mostly occur through human interference.

Quay and Muller say CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, has a genome paring that is rare in nature and is frequently used by scientists in gain-of-function research, called CGG-CGG, or double CGG.

"Yes, it could have happened randomly, through mutations," Quay and Muller wrote. "But do you believe that? At the minimum, this fact – that the coronavirus, with all its random possibilities, took the rare and unnatural combination used by human researchers – implies that the leading theory for the origin of the coronavirus must be laboratory escape."

The pair also argues that how the virus spread and mutated at the start of the pandemic did not act like other coronaviruses of natural origins did, naming SARS and MERS.

They argued natural coronaviruses evolved rapidly as they spread through humans, while COVID-19 didn't appear to work the same way.

"It appeared in humans already adapted into an extremely contagious version. No serious viral 'improvement' took place until a minor variation occurred many months later in England," they said.

They also said the early optimization for transmission and lethality of COVID-19 is "unprecedented," also saying, "Science knows of only one way that could be achieved: simulated natural evolution, growing the virus on human cells until the optimum is achieved."