CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – When we all went into lockdown back in March 2020, an MIT researcher began studying exactly how the coronavirus pandemic started, and decided that a laboratory accident in Wuhan, China, had to be considered a plausible explanation.
Over the past 18 months, Alina Chan has grown a large following on Twitter, where she tweeted her theories and research – and has been attacked by one camp and called a hero by another. Now she has written a new book about what she says has been an “exhausting journey.”
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“It all started because I wanted to ask the question: could this come from nature or from a laboratory? Somehow, just raising the laboratory hypothesis offended a whole bunch of people, powerful people, but behind the scenes, privately, I actually received a a lot of support from other scientists, “said MIT Broad Institute researcher Alina Chan.
In fact, after being rejected as a conspiracy theory at the beginning of the pandemic, these questions about the possibility of a laboratory leak have even begun to seep into popular culture. Jon Stewart joked on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:” “How did this happen? I do not know, maybe a pangolin kissed a turtle,” he said.
But Alina Chan warns that this is not for laughs. A postdoc researcher in gene therapy at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (but not a virologist), she co-authored the new book “Viral”, arguing that searching for the origin of COVID-19 is crucial in preventing future pandemics. ”
“If we do not say anything, this will happen again and again,” Chan said.
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The book argues for both possibilities: natural transmission of the virus from bats to mammals and then to humans, or from some sort of laboratory accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that spread to society. She adds that it is not about attributing the blame.
“We make the strongest possible argument for each origin,” she explained. “And we let the reader decide, so we do not know the answer.”
Some have accused Chan of pushing for the theory of laboratory origin when there is no evidence to support this claim. “There is no evidence whatsoever of a natural origin or a laboratory origin, so all the existing evidence is clues. Even for natural origin, it is completely elaborate,” Chan explained.
So no, there is no hard evidence yet, but as another leading expert in infectious diseases, Dr. David Relman from Stanford University, told CBS News – everything is on the table: “The laboratory leak hypotheses are absolutely legitimate,” said Dr. Relman. “They are plausible.”
Despite personal and professional online attacks that call into question her qualifications, Chan insists she will not be deterred: “I actually have a very strong background in dealing with and developing viruses. I have many years of experience in for biotechnology, genetic engineering. ”
And she’s not sorry about starting to ask questions. “I do not regret that I pushed so hard because the scientific community really needs to go up and rebuild public confidence.”
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Chan said the book captures people on what has happened so far – there has been a lot of confusion, but she points out that no safety changes have been made in the wildlife trade or laboratory safety. So after millions have died and their lives have been turned upside down, we are in the exact same place we were two years ago before anyone ever realized what coronavirus was.
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