COVID-19 has now infected nearly 115,000 people, killing more than 4,000 in the process in a devastating outbreak which is days away from being declared a pandemic. Last night, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conteimposed a nation-wide lockdown and the numbers in Spain almost doubled in a single day as the infection spreads through Europe at an alarming rate. A study released by Chinese scientists last week found the origin of coronavirus could have come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a level four biosafety laboratory 12km from the epicentre of the outbreak.
Now, a new investigation, titled “Coronavirus 2019-nCoV contains a furin-like cleavage site absent in CoV of the same clade,” suggests it has been genetically engineered too.
Published on ScienceDirect this month, the paper reads: “In 2019, a new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) infecting humans has emerged in Wuhan, China.
“Its genome has been sequenced and the genomic information promptly released.
“Despite a high similarity with the genome sequence of SARS-CoV, we identified a peculiar furin-like cleavage site of the 2019-nCoV, lacking in the other SARS-like CoVs.
For efficient spreading in the human population compared to other coronaviruses
“In this article, we discuss the possible functional consequences of this cleavage site in the viral cycle, pathogenicity and its potential implication in the development of antivirals.”
Furin is a “highly expressed” protein found in the lungs of humans that could have been used to activate a virus that previously could have only been passed between animals.
The experts believe this “peculiar furin” is an anomaly and could be used to “successfully exploit” enzymes that innate immunity in humans.
The paper goes on to explain how scientist have not seen anything like this in previous strains.
But, it was not just a single anomaly.
It adds: “Before the emergence of the 2019-nCoV, this important feature was not observed in other coronaviruses.
“Strikingly, the 2019-nCoV sequence contains 12 additional nucleotides upstream of the single cleavage site.”
The paper suggests that this part of the DNA chain has been tampered with for “gain-of-function to the 2019-nCoV for efficient spreading in the human population compared to other coronaviruses.”
It adds: “This possibly illustrates a convergent evolution pathway between unrelated CoVs.”
But, for now, it is just a theory as further testing is needed before the scientists have concrete proof.
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The paper continues: “Obviously much more work is needed to demonstrate experimentally our assertion, but the inhibition of such processing enzymes may represent a potential antiviral strategy.”
China first alerted the world to COVID-19 on December 31, 2019, but many argued the government was lying about the true seriousness of the outbreak amid inconsistencies on certain details.
Coronavirus appears to have originated from a Wuhan seafood market where wild animals, including bats and snakes, are traded and consumed.
But, the bats carrying the disease were originally found in the Yunnan or Zhejiang province, more than 900km away from the seafood market.
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