The Danish researcher Rasmus Nielsen who is researching the evolution of viruses has as co-sender of an open letter published on 14 May attracted worldwide attention and forced renewed interest in the possibility that the pandemic may be due to a human error in Wuhan.
Rasmus Nielsen and the other 17 critical researchers wrote in the open letter that the possibility that the virus outbreak had occurred as a result of ‘accidental release from a laboratory “is still ‘viable”. In an interview with Danish media BT, the California-based Danish researcher explains why there still is reason to suspect a human error committed in Wuhan, even though direct zoonoses, i.e. transfer from humans to animals, is still the simplest explanation according to the professor.
“We now know that they (at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, ed.) have genetically engineered coronaviruses related to covid-19, and they have allowed them to multiply on human cells to test which of the genetically engineered coronaviruses are most likely to infect humans,” Rasmus Nielsen says to BT. “In those experiments, the virus comes through an evolutionary process that can make it even more infectious to humans,” he adds.
Explaining further, Rasmus Nielsen says, “One of the new things we have learned is that it has been done in a so-called BSL-2 laboratory. It is a kind of laboratory without the very strong protective agents that are otherwise used against dangerous viruses.”
BSL-2 laboratories are used to more realistically examine what happens when the body is exposed to a virus by actual inhalation, droplet infection, or other exposure. Rasmus Nielsen notes that it is also known now that the most closely related natural viruses found in Yunnan Province more than 1000 kilometers away from Wuhan have been described and studied by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. “That does not necessarily mean that the covid-19 pandemic is caused by a leak from their laboratory, ”he says.
Rasmus Nielsen’s concern is shared by virologist Ian Lipkin. The researcher from Columbia University was among the first international researchers to visit China in 2020 after the virus outbreak. He told the New York Times that he was horrified to discover that BSL-2 laboratories had been used in Wuhan. According to Ian Lipkin, that fact is not in itself proof that covid-19 spread from the laboratory. “But it certainly raises the possibility that needs to be considered,” he said.
Rasmus Nielsen certainly believes that a deeper scientific study of the virus outbreak is justified. “It is important to establish an actual scientific study of the theory of a laboratory leak, and this has not been the case so far,” he says.