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Covid-19 virus may have been 'stitched together' in a lab, says new study

The study argues that SARS-Cov-2 has some genetic features that may signal towards it being synthetically made in a lab

Coronavirus | China | Viruses

BS Web Team  |  New Delhi 

China, Covid-19, Coronavirus

A new research has suggested that the SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, may have been manmade, according to a report by The Economist.

In an analysis published on bioRxiv, mathematical biologist Alex Washburne argued that the virus has "some genomic features" that "would appear if the virus had been stitched together by some form of genetic engineering". Washburne collaborated with an associate professor of pharmacology at Duke University Antonius VanDongen and a molecular immunologist Valentin Bruttel, for the study.

The trio also examined the number and nature of stitches to assess how much the virus resembles others found in nature. They presume that SARS-Cov-2 was made by combining shorter fragments of existing .

"For a genome assembly they say an ideal arrangement would be to use between five and eight fragments, all under 8,000 letters long. Such fragments are created using restriction enzymes. These are molecular scissors which cut genomic material at particular sequences of genetic letters. If a genome does not have such restriction sites in opportune places, researchers typically create new ones of their own," the report said.

The scientists found that the distribution of two restriction sites, BsaI/BsmBI is uncommon.

The study is not peer-reviewed, nor has it been published in any journal. It has attracted mixed reactions from the scientific world. Several scientists like the University of Sidney's Edward Holmes, have said that it is "complete nonsense". But many including Sylvestre Marillonnet of the Leibniz Institute for Plant Biochemistry, Germany, say the findings might be true but needs rigorous peer review.

Since the start of the pandemic, several scientists have argued that the virus could have emerged from a lab in Wuhan, . But has denied such claims. It has even asked for investigations into whether it may have originated in the US.

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First Published: Mon, January 23 2023. 10:27 IST