About two-thirds of the American public believe that SARS-CoV-2 virus was created either intentionally or unintentionally in a laboratory in Wuhan, China. One of the contentions in support of this theory was that the furin cleavage site on the virus has never been found in nature. Therefore, to some, that meant it must have been created in a laboratory.

The surface protein on SARS-CoV-2 must be cleaved, or cut, by an enzyme before it can successfully enter a cell. The protein-cutting enzyme (or protease) is called furin. A popular book written by Alina Chan and Matt Ridley titled Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19 lists this unusual cleavage site on SARS-CoV-2 as “smoking gun” evidence that the virus was created in a lab. Indeed, Chan and Ridley were featured on a popular science podcast by Sam Harris, who hailed the authors as providing clear evidence for the lab leak theory.

Recently, Wu and coworkers identified a bat virus (Bat CoV CD35) that harbored a furin cleavage site identical to that found on SARS-CoV-2 (Zhu W, Huang Y, Gong J, et al. A novel bat coronavirus with a polybasic furin-like cleavage site. Virol Sin. 2023 May 2;S1995-820X(23)00047-0). The authors concluded, “This study deepens our understanding of the diversity of coronaviruses and provides clues about the natural origin of the furin cleavage site of SARS-CoV-2” (abstract).

There is now abundant evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was an animal-to-human spillover event that occurred in the western section of the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market that housed several live animals that were susceptible to the virus. Indeed, the early cases of COVID-19 centered on that section of the market.

For links to additional resources, see the "SARS-CoV-2 did not come from a lab” section of the “News & Notes” article in the April 2023 Parents PACK newsletter.

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