In Greek Mythology, Pandora was a noble lady whose husband entrusted her with a mysterious jar (later mutating into a box) that supposedly contained untold plagues that could decimate Humankind. Passionately wavering about opening it or not, her curiosity finally got the best of her: she opened it and unleashed its terrible contents.
After more than a year and a half of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic that has killed millions of innocent victims (including our uncle José Luis in Montevideo) and maiming countless infected people with still unknown long-term sequelae, we are all wondering the same: was the pandemic a natural phenomenon or man-made? Initially we did believe that the origin was the accidental transmission of a bat-virus into a human host in that all too infamous Wuhan market. However, over time, the possibility of an accidental leakage from a Chinese lab became more plausible.
Note. This reproduction of Lawrwnce Alma Tadema’s Pandora was taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Nicholas Wade, a prominent science editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, wrote a great article that discusses the veracity of these two competing explanations. He said: “I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory.” This article is so clearly written and solidly based on known facts, that we will try to make a resume.
For months, we thought that the virus had originated in that wet market, but the later discovery of earlier cases not related to it, shattered that hypothesis. In that city stands the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specializes in coronavirus research. When the possibility of an accidental leakage from a less-than-adequate security lab began to mass circulate in the public forum, a group of supposedly “impartial scientists” wrote a letter (not a peer-reviewed article) in The Lancet refuting it. Wade said: “It later turned out that The Lancet letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2-virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Daszak would be potentially culpable. This acute conflict of interest was not declared to The Lancet’s readers, the letter concluded, “We declare no competing interests.”
The author explained that some scientists have been surreptitiously playing a dangerous game in academia and private institutions: creating viruses that are far more deadly than the ones found in nature. They claimed that they could control the scientific variables in a security lab and that their research would help prevent a future jump of these deadly pathogens into a human host. A far-fetched proposition.
The gain-of-function experiments aim to enhance the virulence and transmissibility of pathogens by tinkering around with its genomic constitution. Some virologists in China and other countries have been studying these coronaviruses to change the composition of their surface spike proteins (the device the organism uses to latch on a human cell before injecting its genetic material into it) with varying results. Shi Zheng-Li—nicknamed The Bat Lady—lead several expeditions to dark caves to collect new specimens of coronaviruses and has worked at the Wuhan Institute.
Wade said: “Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to ‘examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs.” He explained that they managed to take the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replace its spike protein with another one from a bat virus, which made it more virulent in human airways. They dubbed their creation as a chimera—a fantastic creature of Greek Mythology.
How could all these scientific undertakings happen “under the radar” of public opinion and, most importantly, the supposedly watchful eyes of public regulators? According to Wade, there is a most shameful conspiracy of silence in academia that prevents the diffusion of this critical information to the very ones they are supposed to be serving: US. During the past few decades, the scientific community has become so detached from the daily realities of common folks that, in their foolish hubris, have tacitly assumed that they can take these Life and Death decisions on their own.
They are totally mistaken. We want “a say” in decisions that, if gone wrong, can potentially wipe Humankind forever.
A message to these late age “apprentis de sorcier”: stop playing around with Pandora’s box.
And another message to the U.S. House of Representatives: check carefully what you are signing for. Do not fund more “gain-of-function” scientific projects as the risks for our species’ survival are too big.
In future articles, we will continue discussing these critical issues for our Health.
Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.
Lawrence Alma Tadema’s Pandora