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Original signatory of COVID-19 lab-leak denial letter now says 'thorough investigation' needed

"A lot of disturbing information has surfaced," professor Peter Palese says.

Published: June 4, 2021 4:40pm

Updated: June 4, 2021 5:33pm

One of the original signatories to a prominent scientific declaration last year that disputed the coronavirus could have come from a lab has rescinded his endorsement, acknowledging that a "thorough investigation" is now needed to determine COVID-19's origins. 

Peter Palese, a professor in the Icahn School of Medicine's department of microbiology, was one of more than two dozen scientists who in early March of last year signed a letter "strongly condemn[ing] conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin."

"Scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)," the signatories declared, "and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife."

Yet in spite of his initial dismissal of the lab-leak theory, Palese told the Daily Mail this week that "a thorough investigation about the origin of the Covid-19 virus is needed."

"A lot of disturbing information has surfaced since the Lancet letter I signed," he said, "so I want to see answers covering all questions."

The lab-leak theory was largely sidelined and disparaged for most of last year, though scientific and public interest in it has skyrocketed in recent weeks  with scientists calling for a full inquiry into the possibility that the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

President Joe Biden has also endorsed investigations into that possibility, last month ordering the Intelligence Community to develop a detailed report on the question over the next several weeks.

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