Story at a glance

  • A letter published in Science Thursday called for a new and truly independent investigation of all possible origins of the virus, including the theory that a laboratory accident released the coronavirus.
  • “We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” the letter said.
  • The letter follows several similar public statements from groups of scientists all over the world calling for a new and more transparent investigation.

More scientists are calling for a deeper investigation into the origin of the coronavirus as key questions about where the pathogen came from remain unanswered. 

In a letter published Thursday in the academic journal Science, an international group of 18 prominent biologists, immunologists and others called for a new and truly independent investigation of all possible origins of the virus, including the theory that a laboratory accident released the coronavirus in Wuhan, China. 


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A full World Health Organization (WHO) report into the origins of the virus was published in March and said the virus most likely jumped from an intermediate animal to humans. The report said it was “extremely unlikely” the virus escaped from a government lab in Wuhan. Investigators were not able to determine exactly how and when the original transmission took place. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the report an “important beginning” but noted it failed to find the source of the virus. 

That report was criticized by many who argued the investigation was not extensive enough as access to raw data was restricted by Chinese authorities. 

The letter published Thursday notes that while there were no findings in clear support of either a natural spillover or lab accident, the team of investigators assessed the zoonotic spillover from an intermediate host theory as “likely to very likely” and the lab accident theory as “extremely unlikely.” 

“The two theories were not given balanced consideration,” the letter states

“As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general, the United States and 13 other countries and the European Union that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve,” the scientists said. 

“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data. A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest.”

The letter follows several similar public statements from groups of scientists all over the world calling for a new and more transparent investigation. 


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Published on May 13, 2021