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Economist Jeffrey Sachs’ Paper Reignites Debate On Possible Lab Origin Of Covid-19


Jeffrey Sachs, the economist, urged the NIH to release evidence it gathered to better understand how Covid originated (Image: Reuters)

Jeffrey Sachs, the economist, urged the NIH to release evidence it gathered to better understand how Covid originated (Image: Reuters)

The paper asks for independent investigation into the evidence collected by US agencies and universities with respect to the origin of Covid

Economist Jeffrey Sachs and Columbia University professor of molecular pharmacology and therapeutics Neil Harrison earlier this week called for an independent investigation of information held by US agencies and universities to find out the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Writing for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sachs and Harrison said the evidence gathered was not adequately reviewed. Both co-authored a paper titled ‘A call for an independent inquiry into the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ where they said that a critical part of the virus’s spike protein contains details that point towards the notion that the SARS-Cov-2 may have originated in a laboratory.

In their paper, Sachs and Harrison refer to a sequence of eight amino acids on a critical part of the virus’s spike protein and how a sequence of amino acids made its way into furin cleavage site (FCS), of SARS-Cov-2. SARS-Cov-2’s FCS allows it to be divided by a protein on the membrane of human cells, making it dangerous for human beings.

The writers of the paper say insertion of such FCS sequences into SARS-like viruses was something which came under the ambit of researchers from EcoHealth Alliance-Wuhan Institute of Virology-University of North Carolina (EHA-WIV-UNC) who also submitted the proposal to US Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA).

“We do know that the insertion of such FCS sequences into SARS-like viruses was a specific goal of work proposed by the EHA-WIV-UNC partnership within a 2018 grant proposal (“DEFUSE”) that was submitted to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA),” Sachs and Harrison write.

Though the DARPA proposal was to prevent the emergence of viral pathogens, it remains unclear if they ended up creating a virus capable of killing humans.

They also pointed to a match between the amino acid series in the FCS of SARS-CoV-2 and the ENaC-alpha. The ENaC-alpha is an epithelial sodium channel-alpha found in our colons, kidneys and airway cells. Earlier researchers found that the overlap between the virus and the sequence found in human lungs is why it affects the human respiratory system.

They, however, suggest that the string of amino acids mentioned above may have been inserted into a bat coronavirus due to ‘its known importance to lung function’. They said that this research could have been part of a 2014 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases experiment that involved increasing the transmissibility and pathogenicity of bat coronaviruses.

(with additional inputs from The Intercept)

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first published:May 20, 2022, 14:48 IST