In today's world we are rapidly consuminginformation and the shorter the news, the better. Vibrant images and short headlines go great on social media, but how often do we check the facts in them? Recently, the media reported on the creation by American scientists of a new variant of COVID-19, the lethality of which (in tests on laboratory mice, which is important) is 80%. The news instantly caught the attention of netizens, but what actually happened? According to an article published in the British Daily Mail, researchers from Boston University "created a new deadly strain of COVID-19", but the scientists themselves call these reports "false and inaccurate", and the article published by journalists contains phrases taken out of context. Employees at the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory (NEIDL) also argue that the work of scientists has nothing to do with the impact of the virus on humans.
- 1 Deadly variant of COVID-19
- 2 How is COVID-19 studied in laboratories?
- 3 Safety of laboratory experiments
- 4 Playing with fire
A deadly variant of COVID-19
"Scientists from Boston University" play withfire,” creating a deadly new strain of COVID-19 in the lab,” the Daily Mail tabloid article begins. In February 2017, the editors of the English-language Wikipedia recognized the publication as an unreliable source of information, which is constantly criticized and receives a large number of complaints.
According to the authors of the article, a team of scientistsdeveloped a new strain of coronavirus by combining a variant of Omicron with the original SARS-CoV-2 strain first discovered in Wuhan. The article includes a link to a study published on the BiorXiv preprint service, which is standard procedure for scientific papers awaiting peer review.
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Laboratory version, as stated instudy killed 80% of infected mice, and its transmission rate is five times the capacity of circulating covid variants. Shortly after the publication in the Daily Mail, representatives of the Boston University lab reported "fulfillment of all regulatory obligations and protocols."
The media announced a sensation, thereby distorting the study and its goals, ”Ronald Corley, head of the Department of Microbiology at Boston University, comments on the news.
The public reaction, however, provokeddiscussions about the need for strict control of laboratory manipulation of viruses and the dangers of such research. Recall that the debate about the origin of COVID-19 has been going on since the beginning of the pandemic, and the latest report published in The Lancet talks about the need to re-examine the laboratory version.
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How is COVID-19 studied in laboratories?
Now let's look at the facts:scientists are constantly studying a wide variety of pathogens. So the sensational Boston University study is not really one. In the course of the work, the scientists extracted the Omicron variant spike protein, a unique structure that binds to and invades human cells.
Spike squirrel, as the respected one probably knowsThe reader is an integral part of the virus and regularly acquires a large number of mutations. It is these changes that make Omicron so contagious. But what is really worth paying attention to is that in the course of the work, scientists linked the spike protein of the Omicron strain with the original version from Wuhan, after which they infected laboratory mice with it, 80% of which died.
The hybrid strain produces five times more viral particles than the original Omicron. Scientists acknowledge that the hybrid variant is unlikely to be as deadly to humanslike for mice. The fact is that mice and humans do not have identical immune responses due to significant differences between species.
It is important to understand that such studies are notrarity. As a rule, they are aimed at studying the spike protein of different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The authors of the work wanted to find out which part of the virus determines how serious the disease will be and how infectious new variants can be.
Note that the tests were carried out oncovid-susceptible mice, which explains their high mortality. And, as the results of previous studies have shown, the most dangerous option for mice is the original strain, but rodents infected with Omicron tolerate the disease easily.
Another goal of the work was to understand howthe artificially created version behaves in the human body. To do this, the team studied the effects of different strains on human lung cells grown in the lab. The results showed that the virus attaches to human cells using a spike protein, after which it begins to actively spread in the body.
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Safety of laboratory experiments
According to an official statement from the BostonUniversity, the new work reflects and reinforces the findings obtained in the course of earlier studies. The authors of the "sensational" article managed to prove that the pathogenicity of Omicron is due not to the spike protein, but to other viral proteins.
“Identification of these proteins will lead to a betterdiagnostics and strategies for the treatment of diseases,” the scientific work says. University officials also noted that the variants the team worked with were less dangerous than the original strain, and the results confirmed earlier findings.
The work was approved by the Boston Public Health Commission and met all safety requirements, experts say.
In the biosafety lab, all experimentsspend four people in a "biosafety box" - a closed ventilated workspace for working with materials contaminated with pathogens. Researchers put on spacesuits that completely cover the body, with air supply, and go through all the necessary security procedures before leaving the laboratory.
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The Boston University Laboratory is one of 13 Biosafety Level 4 laboratories in the United States. These laboratories are authorized to work with the most dangerous pathogens. Similar facilities exist all over the world andneeded to improve treatments and develop effective vaccines that could be used in future outbreaks of a wide variety of diseases.
Playing with fire
However, some scholars believe thatmanipulation of pathogens must be banned as it is playing with fire. Chemist Richard Ebright of Rutgers University believes that creating a new variant of the coronavirus could cause the next pandemic in a lab leak.
Recall that a similar opinion is shared byBritish Chief Astronomer Sir Martin Rees. Back in 2014, he accurately predicted the onset of a pandemic by winning a dispute with American linguist Steven Pinker. According to the astrophysicist, new pandemics await us in the future due to the growth of the world's population. However, there is a threat of possible malicious intent leading to artificial pandemics.
You can learn how to predict a pandemic and what you should prepare for in the future here, we recommend reading it!
Israeli professor Shmuel agrees with RhysShapira - he is convinced that research of this kind should be banned because of the potential for pathogens to escape from biological laboratories. In response to criticism, Boston University officials say they take safety seriously while working with pathogens, and a new hybrid variant of the coronavirus will not leave the laboratory.
Our goal is public health.In the course of the work, we wanted to find out which part of the virus causes a severe course of the disease. If we can understand this, we will develop the tools needed to successfully treat this deadly infection, the Boston University team said.
We must also not forget the correctnessheadlines in the media, which often contribute to disinformation and the spread of fakes. Note that the sensational British tabloid article provides correct information, confirmed by a reference to a scientific study that has not yet passed peer review.
Ultimately, according to scientists, the newresearch will benefit society and help prepare for an effective fight against the disease. Do you think scientists should create hybrid variants of dangerous pathogens? The answer, as always, we will wait here and also in the comments to this article.