Did Covid originate in Laos?

Here’s Bloomberg:

Bats dwelling in limestone caves in northern Laos were found to carry coronaviruses that share a key feature with SARS-CoV-2, moving scientists closer to pinpointing the cause of Covid-19.

Researchers at France’s Pasteur Institute and the University of Laos looked for viruses similar to the one that causes Covid among hundreds of horseshoe bats. They found three with closely matched receptor binding domains — the part of the coronavirus’s spike protein used to bind to human ACE-2, the enzyme it targets to cause an infection.

The finding, reported in a paper released Friday that’s under consideration for publication by a Nature journal, shows that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 exist in nature, including in several Rhinolophus, or horseshoe bat, species. The research supports the hypothesis that the pandemic began from a spillover of a bat-borne virus. . . .

The three viruses found in Laos, dubbed BANAL-52, BANAL-103, and BANAL-236, are “the closest ancestors of SARS-CoV-2 known to date,” said Marc Eloit, head of pathogen discovery at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and co-authors. “These viruses may have contributed to SARS-CoV-2’s origin and may intrinsically pose a future risk of direct transmission to humans.” 

Note that this newly discovered virus is still significantly different from SARS-CoV-2. But the finding is still important, as the receptor binding domains (RBDs) are pretty similar, and some lab leak proponents had argued that the SARS-CoV-2 RBD was suspicious and likely a product of “gain of function” research.



16 Responses to “Did Covid originate in Laos?”

  1. Gravatar of Eliezer Yudkowsky Eliezer Yudkowsky
    19. September 2021 at 10:54

    https://twitter.com/Daoyu15/status/1438901149352935430?s=20 suggests this is spillover from humans infecting bats.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    19. September 2021 at 11:12

    Interesting. But Laos had only 41 cases in 2020. Maybe that’s under-reporting of cases, but also zero deaths. Indochina as a whole was only lightly impacted in 2020, so I’m skeptical without confirmation from other experts.

  3. Gravatar of Ken P Ken P
    19. September 2021 at 16:33

    “some lab leak proponents had argued that the SARS-CoV-2 RBD was suspicious and likely a product of “gain of function” research.”

    I don’t know of any lab leak hypothesis that suggests the virus did not originate from a bat. Wuhan lab has the largest collection of bat coronaviruses and probably has some from Laos.

    GoF does not require genetic engineering. In fact, that would be a low success approach. Intelligent design is much less efficient than evolution. From the recent FOIA, we know that NIH funded research at the lab included passaging SARS-CoV viruses through human cells, followed by passaging through genetically engineered mice. Presumably, these are the mice that express human ACE2 receptor in their lung tissue. It’s basically accelerated evolution.

    The rationale for GoF is to predict likely pandemic strains so we can develop a vaccine in advance. That is a noble goal, but there are two problems with this:

    1) Even in the middle of a pandemic we can’t predict the next strain to emerge.
    2) We know the sequence for the spike protein of the current dominant strain, but we are sticking to the 2 year old spike protein because it would take a year to get a new vaccine approved.

    ‘Knowing the sequence’ is not the bottleneck. We can know that in any pandemic within a couple days at most. The bottleneck is the approval process.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    19. September 2021 at 21:35

    Ken, I think you missed the point. My point wasn’t that people denied the virus originally came from bats, it’s that some denied that certain characteristics of the virus could have arisen naturally.

    I’m on record opposing gain-of-function research, so you are preaching to the choir.

  5. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    20. September 2021 at 12:03

    Yuri Deigin, whose writings have often been used to support the GoF theory in the comments section here, and whom I have been following and come to respect as a good thinker, has recognized the significance of these findings https://twitter.com/ydeigin/status/1439657265372536838?s=20:

    Wow. On a nucleotide level the new Laotian RBD/RBM (receptor binding domain/motif) is MUCH closer to SARS2 than that of the pangolin CoV(Coronavirus). A VERY important piece of the puzzle that essentially proves the RBM *itself* was not engineered but actually came from a bat CoV. Doesn’t rule out a lab leak/passaging etc.

  6. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    20. September 2021 at 12:42

    The whole Covid-19 origin research is close to completely useless because CCP China bans any independent, international research in China itself.

    Imagine one wanted to research the swine flu from Mexico, but Mexico banned any research in their country and says that we must look in Honduras and Guatemala instead.

    What Mexico did back then though was the exact opposite: after just a few days, research teams from the US were allowed to enter and conduct any origin research they wanted to.

    Even the WHO complained massively a few weeks ago that research in the area of Covid-19 origins is impossible because it is massively hindered by China in every possible way.

    The CCP is an evil regime and regarding liberties such as freedem of research light years behind even countries like Mexico.

    Any blog entry that pretends that bullshit research from Laos will get us anywhere, without mentioning the elephant in the room, once again needs to be filed under Scott’s big pile of intentional and unintentional CCP propaganda.

  7. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    20. September 2021 at 13:01

    This purposeful engineering theory has always been questionable. There’s not much (specific) engineering in GoF research.

    GoF, for example, can simply mean that you have an animal virus that you throw at human cells, in dozens, in hundreds, in thousands of cell cultures – until the virus, by simple evolutionary mechanisms, selects and changes itself to infect human cells much much better than before.

    This is probably the GoF research that was most widespread. And I bet the CCP did exactly that. This kind of GoF research was a relatively widespread technique and ideology in virus research, in the pre-Corona era.

    Hardly anyone is seriously doing genetic engineering, tinkering with receptor proteins. First of all, it’s pretty complex and secondly, one would have to know what to change and how. Exploiting evolutionary selection is so much simpler.

  8. Gravatar of Ken P Ken P
    20. September 2021 at 15:54

    Scott, that makes sense. I see now that you are referring to people pointing to the furin cleavage site, etc.

    My view is that if it was created in a lab it would be indistinguishable from something that arose naturally. The odd characteristic to me is how easy it spread in humans straight out of the gate. Almost like it had adapted before seeing its first human.

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    20. September 2021 at 20:39

    Carl, Interesting.

    Christian, Is that a blog comment or a tantrum?

    You say the study is “bullshit”. Should I put more faith in a random blog commenter or researchers at France’s Pasteur Institute? Decisions, decisions. . .

    Ken, You said:

    “The odd characteristic to me is how easy it spread in humans straight out of the gate. Almost like it had adapted before seeing its first human.”

    Aren’t you forgetting the huge number of coronaviruses that never cause global pandemics? Of course the one that does will be easily transmitted.

    Note that the delta variant spreads far more easily than the original variant, and no one claims that delta is genetically engineered.

  10. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    21. September 2021 at 12:34

    Scott, I too have been following Yuri but also Stuart Neil (who’s still not convinced in the lab leak hypothesis. He’s also a virologist). He and Yuri have some interesting discussions about this on Twitter, only 10% or so of which I can follow. They’re civil discussions. In fact it was from Neil that I first heard of this virus in Loatian bats.

  11. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    21. September 2021 at 12:37

    Stuart Neil, in case you’re interested:

  12. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    21. September 2021 at 14:11

    We all seem to be following the same people on Twitter.

  13. Gravatar of Gary Chinn Gary Chinn
    25. September 2021 at 08:35

    I read:

    ‘”Together with relatives of SARS-CoV-2 discovered in Thailand [2], Cambodia [3] and Yunnan in southern China [4], the study demonstrates that southeast Asia is a “hotspot of diversity for SARS-CoV-2 related viruses”, says Alice Latinne, an evolutionary biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society Vietnam in Hanoi.” ‘


  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. September 2021 at 08:39

    Gary, Interesting.

  15. Gravatar of rinat rinat
    27. September 2021 at 11:03

    It seems like you are trying to jump through hoops to acquit China of any wrong doing.

    Based on your general adulation towards the CPP, and hatred of freedom and liberty world wide, I’d be shocked if you didn’t have monetary interests at stake.

    Btw, 4,600 doctors have now signed a petition calling for arrests (“crimes against humanity”).


    You are not going to get away with your complicity. I have screen shots of your posts propagating CDC lies, so that you can get your kickback (your wifi works for corrupt pharma). Even if you delete them, I will make sure the attorneys get it.

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. September 2021 at 15:47

    Rinat, This is an anti-China post. If the virus came from a wild animal market (which Western countries do not have) it’s far worse for China’s reputation than if it came from an accidental lab leak (which also happens in Western countries.)

    How hard is that to understand?

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