Virologist Jonathan Latham and geneticist Allison Wilson have proposed a new hypothesis for the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has been known since February that a bat virus called RaTG13, collected by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in 2013, is the closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2.
It has been known since May (to some) that RaTG13, previously known as BtCoV/4991, was found in bat feces in a mineshaft near Mojiang in southwest China, after six miners fell ill with Covid19-like pneumonia and three of them died. The WIV itself didn’t disclose this link, however.
It is also known that RaTG13, despite its 96% similarity, cannot be the direct ancestor of SARS-CoV-2, as natural mutations in the environment would have taken at least several decades. But it has been shown computationally that RaTG13 can itself already infect human lung cells to some extent.
It is also known that the sick Mojiang miners, exhibiting severe Covid19-like pneumonia, were hospitalized for up to four months before being either discharged or dying back in 2012.
Latham and Wilson now propose that the Mojiang miners were originally infected by RaTG13 and/or similar coronaviruses during their up to two week stay in the mineshaft inhaling aerosols from bat feces. RaTG13 then turned into SARS-CoV-2 through mutations and/or recombinations in the lungs of the miners during their up to four month stay in the hospital (the Mojiang miners passage).
Thus the infected lungs of the miners may have served as a ‘human incubator’ enabling RaTG13 to adapt to both the human ACE2 cell receptor and the human immune system in just four months instead of several decades as would have been expected in a natural (animal) environment.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2012/2013 received tissue or blood samples of the surviving or dead miners that may already have included what is now known as SARS-CoV-2. WIV virologists may then have been waiting five more years, until the completion of their BSL-4 (high security) lab in 2018, before beginning to do research on what is now known as SARS-CoV-2.
SARS-CoV-2 may then have escaped, probably in autumn 2019, from the WIV BSL-4 lab, perhaps through an infected lab worker, initiating what is now a global coronavirus pandemic.
This, in short, is the Latham-Wilson Mojiang Miners Passage (MMP) hypothesis. It can explain most or all of the unusual properties of SARS-CoV-2, including its very strong binding to human ACE2 cell receptors and its very low mutation rate, without even having to assume gain-of-function research (i.e. genetic engineering) — though not excluding it, either.
The MMP hypothesis would also explain why SARS-CoV-2 can be so dangerous to those whose immune system cannot readily neutralize the virus (using mucosal and/or T-cell immunity), and why early (or even prophylactic) treatment in people at high risk or high exposure is so important.
Read the full article by Latham and Wilson:
A Proposed Origin for SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 Pandemic (ISN, July 15, 2020)
- Seven year coronavirus trail from mine deaths to a Wuhan lab (London Times, 7/4/20)
- Dr. Fauci Backed Controversial Wuhan Lab with U.S. Dollars for Risky Coronavirus Research (Newsweek, 4/28/20)
- How China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus (Scientific American, 3/11/20)
- An early article from 2014: A New Killer Virus in China? (Science Magazine, 03/20/14)
- Pentagon biolab discovered MERS and SARS-like coronaviruses in bats (Arms Watch, 4/30/20)