Unless you are a scientist or have been fastidious in your scrutiny of the May edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, it’s probable that you are not aware of the effect a furin cleavage site has had on your life. Furthermore, you might not be aware that, because this site is located precisely on the spike protein of the COVID-19 virus, it might well be about to blow the lid off the Wuhan wet market theory that it was the consumption of an under-cooked bat that inflicted the coronavirus pandemic on the world.
I’m certainly no scientist, and neither is US President Joe Biden. So, when he recently instructed America’s intelligence agencies to conduct a 90-day analysis of the source of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), then it’s fair to assume that some compelling data that discredits the wet market theory has come to light. My layman’s guess is that the furin cleavage site is the reason.
If we are to believe the Chinese Communist Party and, subsequently, the World Health Organization, then the convenient bat-to-human transfer of the virus happened in the Wuhan Seafood Market. What is less convenient is the existence of the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology, where, according to Nicholas Wade’s compelling May 5 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, Dr. Shi Zhengli was leading years of research 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 coronaviruses.”
As a part of this research, Wade, a respected science writer, describes how, in 2015, Shi manufactured a novel virus by replacing the spike protein from a bat coronavirus. This enabled it to infect the human airway cells. This data was made available to the scientific community.
The events of 2020 have brought the risk-reward of Shi’s work into question. However, it would seem to have been benign and with good intent to enable the fight against future pandemics. In fact, the work was deemed to be of such value that, in 2018, it was funded by America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), whose director was none other than Dr. Anthony Fauci. This financial grant and the work it supported is a matter of public record.
However, it would appear that, while the grant placed limitations on Shi’s research, her subsequent work was perhaps motivated by a scientist’s urge to make breakthroughs rather than the required parameters of NIAID or anyone else. Specifically, it seems the activity in the Wuhan Institute of Virology was subject to mission creep and evolved into “gain-of-function” research, which is a term used to describe any field of medical research that alters an organism or disease in a way that increases transmissibility or host range.
It seems the activity in the Wuhan Institute of Virology was subject to mission creep and evolved into ‘gain-of-function’ research
Furthermore, although the Wuhan laboratory possessed four levels of safety to prevent virus leaks, in published material and data that was available before September 2019, Shi states that she conducted work at safety levels two and three. Hence, she elected not to use the highest level of precaution against virus leaks.
Of course, none of this proves that there was a leak; it merely points to the fact that work relevant to the spread of COVID-19 was ongoing in the Wuhan Institute of Virology prior and up to the rapid spread of the virus among the city’s population in the last quarter of 2019.
However, while coincidences or experiments and leaks are possible, it is the existence of the furin cleavage site that is perhaps the most compelling in terms of placing the natural wet market emergence of COVID-19 into doubt.
If a natural viral evolution is believed, then the transfer from bat to human would have had to occur in less-damaging form prior to the virus mutating the furin cleavage site at precisely the right location, which has resulted in the virus being more infectious to humans than to bats. While such mutation is admitted by Wade’s article to be possible, he concludes that the “numbers game” makes it unlikely in the extreme, citing that a natural chain with several improbable steps is unlikely ever to be completed.
Hence, it is likely that the existence of the furin cleavage site, sitting right in the middle of the COVID-19 spike protein, provides a clue to the source of the virus.
Simply put, to be effective, the spike protein of COVID -19 first has to identify its target, which just happens to be a protein that studs the surface of the human airway. Concurrent to identification and attachment, it must then inject a viral genome into the cell, which results in the generation of new viruses. However, none of this can happen until these functions are split apart, and it is a precisely located furin cleavage site that ensures these functions are “cleaved” in precisely the right place. This is remarkable, given that random DNA (or RNA for coronaviruses) makes the chances of such siting and functionality remote in the extreme and that no other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses a furin cleavage site.
Conversely, the placement of such a site by a laboratory is not an uncommon practice in order to achieve gain of function and, before 2019, the Wuhan Institute of Virology published the results of several gain-of-function experiments that had added furin sites to make viruses more infectious.
So could it be a coincidence that the site is not found in any other naturally occurring beta-coronavirus or that science cannot reasonably explain how COVID-19 acquired a paired DNA (RNA) sequence favored by human cells but not other coronaviruses?
Some scientists describe the existence of the furin cleavage site as a smoking gun, the sights of which seem not to be trained on a wet market, but instead on an institute of virology just 9.8 km to the east. It seems former US President Donald Trump initially called it but lacked the data; now Biden hopes to prove it.
The repercussions for China could be considerable.
• Howard Leedham MBE Is a former UK Special Forces officer. He leads a specialist global consultancy firm based in the Middle East. Twitter @howardleedham