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Research shows COVID-19 was not manufactured in a lab

September 16, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: COVID-19 is a man-made virus intentionally manufactured in a lab and released to the public.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Scientists say the molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2 rules out the possibility that the virus was created in a lab.

THE FACTS: A draft study associated with a group founded by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is giving new life to social media claims that the coronavirus was manufactured intentionally in a Chinese lab.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was released Monday by Chinese virologist Li-Meng Yan and three colleagues. It claims to show evidence the virus did not originate in nature. 

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The four authors list their affiliation as the Rule of Law Society, a group founded by Bannon that says its mission is to expose corruption, obstruction, illegality, brutality, false imprisonment, excessive sentencing, harassment, and inhumanity pervasive in the political, legal, business and financial systems of China.” It is not a scientific organization.

Twitter suspended Yan’s account on Monday and declined to comment on the reason for the suspension. The same evening, Yan appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News, claiming the coronavirus is a Frankenstein-like virus manufactured and released intentionally by the Chinese government. 

The video of her Fox News appearance, shared widely on social media and retweeted by the president, sparked a swell of social media posts backing the theory. Carlson has been speculating on the virus’s origins since the outset of the pandemic in the U.S. 

Despite top medical officials and researchers debunking the conspiracy theory that the virus originated in a lab, it continues to thrive. Scientists have repeatedly said that the genetic sequence of the virus and its similarities to SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, prove that the virus was not made in a lab or engineered. In a paper titled “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2” published in Nature in March, scientists with Scripps Research who studied the genome sequence of the virus concluded that it originated through natural processes. By looking at the virus’s molecular structure, they were able to determine that the backbone of the virus differed from coronaviruses already known to scientists and rather it resembled viruses found in bats and pangolins. 

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Scientists have said that if the virus was made in a lab then its structure would reveal that it would have been created from viruses that are already known and there would be signs of manipulation. 

“These two features of the virus, the mutations in the RBD portion of the spike protein and its distinct backbone, rules out laboratory manipulation as a potential origin for SARS-CoV-2,” Kristian Andersen, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and one of the authors of the paper, said in a news release in March.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536