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Coronavirus conspiracy claim called 'impossible', 'absurd'

By Zhang Zhihao | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-20 07:24

Scientists around the world rushed to debunk another wave of conspiracy theory recently hyped by some United States media and a French Nobel laureate claiming the novel coronavirus was artificially created.

Yuan Zhiming, a senior virologist and the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Wuhan Branch, said "it is impossible" to synthesize the novel coronavirus for it would require "extraordinary knowledge and work" that surpasses current technological capabilities.

It is even more ridiculous to claim the virus had escaped from a biosafety lab in Wuhan, the researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology said. "We have strict rules and a code of conduct for scientific research and development. We have confidence in our management."

Yuan was speaking in response to recent speculation by politicians and media in the United States that the virus could have leaked from the labs in Wuhan due to poor management.

"The director of the Galveston National Laboratory in the United States made it clear that our laboratory is just as well managed as labs in Europe and the US," Yuan said in an interview with China Global Television Network.

Luc Montagnier, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008, said in a recent interview that the novel coronavirus was "manipulated and accidentally released from a laboratory in Wuhan" in late 2019 because its genome contained sequences from the HIV virus.

He was immediately panned by scientists around the world, including French virologist Simon Wain Hobson, who said Montagnier based his misinformed accusation on the research by French mathematician Jean Claude Perez, who claimed to find evidence of the virus is partially synthetic but was later proved to be false.

Virologist Etienne Simon Loriere of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP that Montagnier's claim was "absurd "because it is common for organisms to share pieces of their genome with other bacteria and viruses.

"If we take a word from a book and it looks like another word, can we say that one has copied from the other? This is absurd!" he said.

Yuan said people tend to "connect the dots" and associate the virus with labs because the Institute of Virology and the P4 laboratory, one of Asia's most advanced biosafety labs, just so happened to exist in the same city.

"I think it is understandable for people to make that association,"Yuan said. "But it is a malicious move to purposefully mislead the people" to think that the virus escaped from labs.

"They have no evidence or logic to support their accusations. They are basing it completely on their own speculations," he said. The purpose of these accusations, Yuan believed, is to throw off China's effort against the epidemic and interfere with its research.

There has been an ample amount of academic literature proving the novel coronavirus originated in nature. Scientists have also not found any trace of artificial tampering in the virus' genome, he said.

Some scientists believe perfectly synthesizing a virus of this complexity without leaving any evidence requires technological wizardry beyond current human knowledge and capability, Yuan said.

"I have never believed we humans have the know-how to create such virus," he said.

"I have been in managing laboratory biosafety and scientific research projects for years, I know it is impossible," he said. "But I also believe that so long as the pandemic continues, this kind of speculations and disharmony will not fade away."

At the same time, Yuan said the global scientific community has a basic consensus on where the pathogen comes from.

"Scientists around the world are joining forces to publish in academic journals. I hope these conspiracy theories will not harm the cooperation of scientists and affect their fight against the pandemic."

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