A Nobel Prize-winning US biologist, often quoted as describing a “smoking weapon” to support the thesis that Covid-19 was genetically engineered and escaped from a Wuhan laboratory, said he had the case overrated.
David Baltimore, a distinguished biology professor, had become one of the most prominent figures quoted by proponents of what is known as the laboratory leak theory.
Originally quoted in an article in the nuclear scientist’s bulletin in May, and frequently re-cited since then, Baltimore seemed to suggest that a specific feature in the Covid-19 genome known as the furin cleavage site was the “smoking weapon” of the theory that the virus was in a laboratory and then over a leak.
“These features pose a strong challenge to the idea of a natural origin for Sars2,” he said at the time.
In the past few days, however, Baltimore has had a fellow researcher, the Scientific Journal nature and the LA times that – although correctly quoted in the Bulletin – he should not have used the term “smoking weapon” and was unsure what the trait proved in relation to the origins of the virus – natural or not.
In an email exchange with the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore admitted having overstated the case and being open-minded on the matter.
“[I] should have softened the phrase “smoking gun” because I don’t think it proves the origin of the furin cleavage site, but it sounds like it.
“I think the question of whether the sequence was inserted naturally or through molecular manipulation is very difficult to determine, but I wouldn’t rule out both causes.”
Baltimore also made its stance clear in an exchange with Nature, saying: “There are other options and they have to be carefully examined, and that’s all I wanted to say. “
Given its considerable reputation, Baltimore’s dramatic “Smoking Rifle” quote in early May had sparked much of the recent resurgence in interest in the Wuhan laboratory leak theory, along with renewed coverage of unconfirmed intelligence allegations that Three employees from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with either Covid-19 or the seasonal flu.
This in turn prompted US President Joe Biden to instruct secret services to report knowledge of the origins of the virus within 90 days, amid calls from the World Health Organization to “depoliticize” the debate about the origins of Covid-19. first infected people.
Biden’s call is to be underlined in a joint US-EU statement that expects “progress in a transparent, evidence-based, expert-led, WHO-convened Phase 2 study on the origins of Covid-19” that is free from interference ”.
Amid renewed controversy, one of the major scientific debates has been investigating whether the virus’s furin cleavage site is so new that it was created by human manipulation rather than naturally.
In support of the latter theory, some scientists suggest that the same trait occurs in other common coronaviruses, including those that cause colds, and that it appears intermittently in the coronavirus family tree.
Baltimore’s clarification came as he was also challenged in nature on another of his claims regarding Covid-19 that the coding of a segment found in the furin cleavage site was not normally found in viruses, with one scientist indicating that the same coding is also a feature of the Sars virus be.