Ask Marion (2): (English translation)

About the Mines of Moijang

 

“Nothing in history has proved so fragile as the truth.”

Jan B. Hommel.

“Truth is stranger dan fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”

Mark Twain

I ended my previous blog “Ask Marion – 1” with Alina Chan’s article (1). This article was published as pre-print on May 2, 2020, although I didn’t see it myself until later, simply because I deemed the SARS-CoV-2 virus having escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) very unlikely.

How naive can a person be.

Today, I start again from where I left off.

Murky Wuhan

After Alina Chan dug into the properties of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the first aspect Chan noticed was the virus’ remarkable genetic stability in the first phase of the pandemic. When a virus jumps to a new host, it undergoes several changes in its genetic code – the RNA – to adapt to the new host relatively fast. Chan analyzed the changes in the viral RNA of the SARS virus shortly after the virus had jumped from the civet cat to humans. Rapid changes in the RNA were clearly reflected in this analysis. This development was lacking in the SARS-CoV-2 virus shortly after the outbreak. The (missing) genetic evolution in the RNA of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the first months after the outbreak did not correspond to the genetic evolution of the SARS virus in the first months after the outbreak in 2002. The changes in the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus did correspond to the later phase of the genetic evolution of the SARS virus.

Therefore, Alina Chan’s tentative conclusion was that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was already remarkably well adapted to its new host, humans, at the time of the outbreak in Wuhan (1).

A possible explanation for the lack of genetic evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the initial phase, expressed by Alina Chan herself in the article she published, might be a ‘super spreader’ which, at the start of the pandemic, could have infected many people at the same time. In that case, however, one should also be able to identify other people or an intermediate host with less well-adapted variants of the virus, as in the previous SARS case. In the latter, variants of the SARS virus with a genetic make-up were found to be less adequately adapted to the new host, both in humans and in civets. To this very day, this intermediate host has not been found in the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

About the Pangolin, the Court Jester, and the Queen

Adepts of the zoonosis theory presume that such an intermediate host should be existent, but just takes time to detect it. It then should have been a pangolin, a scale-like animal that eats ants, and is very common in China. This little animal is now being blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, while the poor little creature was not aware of doing any harm. He fled and is still on the run. Evil tongues claim that he and his family sneaked onto Her Royal Highness Marion Koopmans’ return flight, coming back from her trip to Wuhan. The scientific hypothesis is that he must have crawled into Marion’s backpack, and he could have been, because it was still mostly empty: There were no more curiosities for sale on the market in Wuhan. Actually, nothing was available anymore, not even a meat ball. The same evil tongues also claim that the pangolin now resides with his family in the caves of Remouchamps. Unfortunately, to date, the Belgian army and the Belgian police have not been able to find the animal. A Belgian criminologist, after having thoroughly studied the unpleasant situation, has reported that the animal most likely dwells in a part of the caves that has not yet been searched. That will take some time, specifically because they are still looking for officers and soldiers who are not afraid of bats. They are so anxious because a shield does not protect them and hitting bats with bats is quite difficult.Queen Marion Koopmans of the Virological Kingdom of Erasmus asked her court jester, Maarten Keulemans via WhatsApp, to help find the animal, but miserable Maarten could neither find the animal in the canteen of the beer team of the journalistic 5th class Saturday Amateurs, nor at work, in the science newsroom of the Illustrated Toilet Roll. Benevolent as Maarten is, he also offered to go to the caves of Remouchamps to help search, as Maarten is not afraid of the dark. All his life he has lived with a deep darkness in his head.

But it really was a long trip on his beer bike, all the way from the science newsroom of ‘The Illustrated Toilet Roll’ in Amsterdam, where, every day, Maarten writes a new Praise about Queen Marion. Before he even got to the caves, the poor animal inside would probably have been locked up for a long time, deep in the caverns of Queen Marion Koopmans’ palace, where a Chinese au-pair would take care of it, with a Chinese BOA as its guard.

Still foggy in Wuhan.

Furthermore, Alina Chan compared the first genetic samples of the SARS-CoV-2 virus found in humans, with the samples taken on the market in Wuhan. They turned out to be fully identical, a strong indication that the SARS-CoV-2 virus found on the Wuhan market was of human origin, and not from animals traded on that market. While her arguments were rock-solid, in her article Alina Chan was particularly watchful in her conclusions, only mentioning that, regardless of the probability, the chance that a non-genetically engineered virus, investigated in the WIV, could have escaped from the lab.

On May 2, 2020, Alina Chan published the article on a pre-print server, a server where articles are posted pending peer review. Incidentally, this peer review, which is now often seen as the holy grail of proving the quality and reliability of an article, is failing regarding its effectiveness (2), and it is even debatable whether it shouldn’t be better to abolish it. Richard Smith, until 2004 editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote that the evidence for the benefit of peer review is very meager, with additionally considerable evidence available, supporting claims that the procedure is slow, too expensive, hardly able to debug articles, largely a lottery, prone to bias and abuse, providing no guarantee against scientific fraud, and counterproductive to innovation, because, research done but not conforming to the prevailing scientific doctrine is seldomly accepted and published.

To anyone who still doubts the usefulness of peer review, I would like to point out two major scandals in recent history: one is of a professor of internal medicine, Don Poldermans from Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, who contributed to more than 600 articles as author, but who filled his database for a large part with fabricated data (3). In addition, many records were incomplete and multiple inaccuracies were found in the data supplied by him. Nevertheless, his articles were published, after peer review, without any suspicion of fraud.

For many years, Professor of Social Psychology, Diederik Stapel was also able to go his own way with ‘scientific’ research which, for the larger part, was completely fabricated, sometimes with the weirdest outcomes, resulting in many publications with which he acquired great national and international reputation (4). Again, it was not the peer review that uncovered all, it turned out to be his own students who had strong doubts about Stapel’s research results.

After Alina Chan’s publication on the pre-print server, May 2, 2020, it was picked up by British tabloid The Daily Mail, on May 16, 2020. One day later, Newsweek published an article entitled, “Scientists Shouldn’t Rule Out Lab as Source of Coronavirus, New Study Says.”

That was the moment on which, as Alina Chan put it herself, ‘shit exploded everywhere’ (5).

Since the start of the Corona pandemic in January 2020, several experts had already been alarmed by information about an outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan. While no evidence of an eventual escape from the WIV was present, this scenario seemed the most likely, as the population of bats, in which such coronaviruses naturally occur, lives more than 1600 kilometers from Wuhan.

Nonetheless, the possibility of a breakout from the WIV was quickly rejected by the established scientific community, mainly because several leading scientists in this discipline emphasized that they regarded this chance as extremely unlikely, without any evidence to support this by the way. Peter Daszak, zoologist, and president of EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit organization, termed the idea “absurd” (5). Daszak had worked for years with Shi Zhengli, the virologist who leads the WIV, nicknamed the Batwoman, and has co-authored nearly a dozen articles, which included Shi Zhengli as an author as well. Furthermore, it was the EcoHealth Alliance that funded research in the WIV and funneled money from the National Institute of Health (NIH), director Anthony Fauci, to the WIV. In April 2020, this funding was blocked by President Trump, upon right-wing conservatives questioning the matter during a press conference (6). During a later Senate hearing, Anthony Fauci would confirm that this order to stop funding the EcoHealth Alliance came directly from the White House.

In July 2020, this decision was reversed pro forma by the NIH, if Peter Daszak would comply to seven conditions. These conditions included he would provide information about ‘patient zero’, a researcher from the WIV who had vanished into thin air. He should also provide information about the decrease in telephone traffic and roadblocks around Wuhan in October 2019, as observed by the US security services (6). These are generally not questions posed to a director of a non-profit organization like EcoHealth Alliance, queries of which it is very questionable whether Peter Daszak would be able (or willing) to answer them. In essence, it meant that his research had been suspended and would remain so for the time being.

Upon the release of Alina Chan’s publication, she was severely attacked by several scientists. Among them Daszak, who, on Twitter, described Chan’s research as ‘floppy science’. He posed it was “bad phylogenetic research, with too many conclusions based on too little data, supported by a wave of conspiracy theories to try giving the research more impact.” (5) His criticism on Twitter was accompanied by many exclamation points, including the statement that an experiment cited by Chan, was impossible to conduct, and that Chan did not understand her own data. After this attack on Chan, a supporter of Daszak posted a GIF in which a microphone falls from a hand, depicting that the discussion was closed, in favor of Daszak.

Clearly the strategy of the alpha male on top of the science mountain, who guards hierarchy and calls the lower-ranking rebellious members of the scientific monkey colony to order. The scientific world has many characteristics of a monkey colony, as only a few institutions and individuals determine whose articles are published, who gets certain positions and how the available research funds are distributed.

As a postdoc, Alina Chan is ranks way lower in this hierarchy than Peter Daszak, despite working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the most prestigious technological universities in the world. It was no coincidence that, to the Boston Magazine reporter who interviewed her she mentioned half seriously, half-jokingly, that this paper could be career suicide.

Perhaps Peter Daszak had expected that, from his unassailable position, he had finally silenced Alina Chan. This appeared not to be correct. Alina Chan did what only few young scientists dare: she dealt with Daszak. She replied to him with a somewhat cynical comment on Twitter; ‘sorry to disrupt mike drop’ and offered Daszak the web link to an article in Nature, one of the top five scientific journals with the greatest impact. This article described and showed the execution of the experiment of which Daszak claimed it could not be performed.

And that was not all. Kindly but resolutely, Chan debunked every argument Daszak had attacked her with, showing where Daszak went wrong with his reasoning. In the end, Daszak’s argumentation turned out to be little more than the assertion that she had improperly used the word isolate. Chan then kindly referred him to the GenBank, the National Institute of Health (NIH) genetic database from which this term originated. She offered to change the word isolate to any word he wished, but after this final correction from Chan, Peter Daszak was struck silent. Without exception, his allegations had all been debunked, but still feeling wronged, he grumbled that Chan “over-interpreted” her results.

Another scientist who heavily criticized Chan, was evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen – a professor at UC Davis – who, also via his Twitter account, commented on Chan’s article that the “analysis in this study is not in the slightest convincing.” His major reproach at Chan was, that she had compared the changes in the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus after the outbreak, only with those of the SARS virus. According to Eisen, this single comparison was not enough evidence to conclude that the SARS-CoV-2 virus had already adapted remarkably well to its new host, shortly after the outbreak. He wanted to see more evidence for Chan’s hypothesis that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was already optimally adapted to its new host, humans, at the start of the outbreak.

That opportunity presented itself sooner than Eisen could have imagined. Only days later, it became clear that, in Denmark, the SARS-CoV-2 virus had spread from humans to minks. Analysis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus shortly after it had jumped to minks showed exactly what Chan had already predicted: In the first weeks after the jump the virus mutated at lightning speed to optimally adapt to the new host, in this case the mink. Ultimately, Jonathan Eisen acknowledged presence of a lot of “interesting analysis” in Chan’s study and volunteered to collaborate on a future version of the paper.

Smokescreen

It didn’t stop there: Alina Chan analyzed several papers, all from China, that, independent of each other, found coronaviruses in pangolins, closely related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, . This variety of publications created the impression that a large reservoir of such viruses, closely related to SARS-CoV-2 virus, is present in this population. With that, the hypothesis of the virus originating from the Wuhan market would be reinforced, and it would be plausible that a zoonosis – a virus transferring from animals to humans – was the correct explanation for the outbreak.

First and foremost, Chan noticed that all these studies involved just a small number of scientists. This sparked Chan’s interest. She subsequently analyzed the sequences – the order of the building blocks in the RNA – of these genetic profiles reported in several studies. She discovered that the sequences of a specific part of the virus – the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein – were exactly the same. This being inconsistent with, if multiple SARS-CoV-2 related viruses were involved, minor differences in the sequences of the RBD should have to be found (22).

Chan’s analysis refuted, with a near-certain probability, that highly SARS-CoV-2 virus-related coronaviruses are abundant in the pangolin population. It turned out that the authors simply had shared the same genetic database for a multitude of scientific papers, based on the analysis of only one closely related coronavirus, a virus found in only a few pangolins. These pangolins had been seized by an anti-smuggling unit in southern China, so it was not possible to know where and when these animals had become infected with the virus found (21).

Another striking fact was found in several of these papers, published as pre-print, showing no specification where, when and from which animals the samples used were taken. Also, various papers lacked the necessary data that would allow other scientists to independently verify the genetic profiles published in them. It appeared as if several Chinese scientists had baked a particularly delicious cake, but had forgotten to describe the ingredients, and the recipe how to bake it.

Additionally, Chan found several inaccuracies in the published studies. For example, in one study samples were renamed, samples were assigned to the wrong genetic profiles, or a genetic profile was formulated but could not be traced back to one of the samples that had been collected. In one paper, the authors even dared to argue that the virus they described in their paper could well be the same virus found in another study. It could absolutely not be different from the same virus because both studies used the same genetic database, built from the gene sequence of the same virus, from the small number of animals seized. Presumably this was done to again suggest that the virus was omnipresent in the pangolin population.

Another illustrious fact is that a genetic database of all coronaviruses found in pangolins, which was uploaded to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) genetic database server in September 2019, was uploaded again in January 2020. It is not clear whether these two databases are identical.

But to this day, the various questions Chan posed resulting from her analysis have not been answered.

In June 2020, Chan’s analyzes were reaffirmed: In a study of hundreds of animals traded on the Wuhan market no animal was found to have the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Only samples taken on the market itself were positive. The president of the Chinese CDC also acknowledged that the Wuhan market was presumably not the place where the SARS-CoV-2 virus had spread from the animals traded there to humans.

The pangolin theory, as if it were a Chinese skyrocket at its highest point, exploded above the Wuhan market: Beyond question, the virus was not transmitted from the pangolin to humans.

DRASTIC Research.

Alina Chan was only now shifting into high gear. She continued critically examining the earlier work of the WIV and Peter Daszak. On February 3, 2020, the article that first described the SARS-CoV-2 virus was published in Nature, with the last author being Shi Zhengli and the second-to-last author Peter Daszak. In this paper, the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was compared with the SARS virus. In general, the genetic similarity between these two viruses was only 79.6%, proving that they are only distantly related (7).

Additionally, the same paper compared the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with another, until now unknown, beta-coronavirus called RaTG13. The overall genetic similarity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to this RaTG13 virus was 96.2%. This meant that the RaTG13 virus is considerably closer related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus than the SARS virus. In the paper by Zhengli and Daszak, authors only indirectly mentioned that this virus originated from Yunnan province in southern China.

The paper also describes that the SARS-CoV-2 virus had been cultured on Vero E6 cells; something to remember because it illustrates that the RaTG13 virus could also be cultured, given the great resemblance to the SARS-CoV-2-virus. Unfortunately, the article does not mention where exactly the RaTG13 virus was found and when the virus was sequenced (sequencing is determining the nucleotide order, which is the order of building blocks of the RNA). This study, in which the SARS-CoV-2 virus was described for the first time, was published on February 3, 2020. However, it was not until May 2020 that, without any publicity, the complete genome of the RaTG13 virus was reproduced by the WIV and uploaded to the NCBI’s genetic database. Furthermore, about this RaTG13 virus no one had ever published before, moreover, the paper by Zhengli and Daszak, of February 3, 2020, which first described the SARS-CoV-2 virus also failed to provide a reference describing where and when the RaTG13 virus was found.

The wheels of time turn back to 2016. In that year, a study was published on the occurrence of coronaviruses in various bat species in an abandoned mine shaft in Mojiang, also in Yunnan province, again with Zhengli as last author. In addition to several alpha-coronaviruses, two earlier unknown beta-coronaviruses were additionally found in bats. (8). Beta-coronaviruses belong to a small group of viruses – a subgenus – that are highly similar, including SARS and the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well. MERS belongs to another subgenus in the larger family – the genus – of coronaviruses.

One of these two viruses was named CoV/4991, and the genetic sequence of a small piece of the RNA of this previously unknown virus, the so-called RdRp gene, was only for 78% similar to the SARS virus. The RdRp gene of coronaviruses represents a small part of RNA that is highly conserved, meaning that the order of the nucleotides (building blocks) of the RNA of such a gene hardly change while other parts of the viral genome mutate faster. In this way, the degree of relationship between two viruses can be determined.

We now head back to 2020: In search of the origin of the SARS-Cov-2 virus, the question of origin of its closest relative, the RaTG13 virus, has worldwide become increasingly imperative. Shi Zhengli gave no satisfactory answers and came up with various and partly contradictory explanations. This aroused interest of several research teams, including the anonymous research group DRASTIC (9). This group is a colorful collection of people, with most diverse backgrounds and expertise, that spontaneously arose around an anonymous Indian man who calls himself ‘the Seeker’ on Twitter, and whose specialty is finding hidden information in every corner, nook, and cranny of the World Wide Web. Another anonymous member, named Billy Bostickson, whose Twitter icon represents an abused lab monkey, coordinated the investigation.

The Seeker’s attention was first drawn to a blog written by Yuri Deiging, a businessman who in his blog openly questioned whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus might have originated in the laboratory, for example by genetically manipulating the RTaG13 virus (10). The Seeker posted the blog on Reddit, resulting in an instantly implemented permanent ban. His annoyance thereon only made him more investigative. He joined a group of people on Twitter gathering around Yuri Deiging, among which businessmen, engineers and even a microbiologist, who were willing to discuss this hypothesis and exchange knowledge. It was the start of the DRASTIC research group.

This group of people became increasingly convinced that the RaTG13 virus held the key to solving the mystery of how and where the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated. Half a dozen of the people around the Seeker began meticulously sifting through all the WIV’s previously published papers and combing every inch of the internet. They reported their findings in a long and impressive Twitter trail (11).

They came across an article describing that not only the RaTG13 virus was closely related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus but, based on limited genetic data – the aforementioned RdRp gene -, the aforementioned CoV/4991 virus was related as well (12). By the time the authors submitted their scientific article for publication, the complete genome of the RaTG13 virus was not yet available in the NCBI database. This could be a good explanation for the circumstance that this article did not establish a relationship between the CoV/4991 virus and the RaTG13 virus. Next, it was obvious for the DRASTIC researchers to compare the RaTG13 virus with the CoV/4991 virus. And as one had somewhat expected: the comparison of the RdRp gene of these two viruses yielded a 100% match. For DRASTIC, the conclusion was clear: the CoV/4991 virus and the RaTG13 virus are one and the same virus. Even the month the samples were obtained were the same, July 2012 (13).

But there was more: Shi Zhengli personally was listed as the last author in the study that described CoV/4991 in 2016 (14), but which did not mention the name change from CoV/4991 to RaTG13 in the February 2020 publication about the new SARS-CoV-2 virus. Also, the 2016 study describing the CoV/4991 virus was not cited in this latest paper.

Once confronted with these findings, Zhengli acknowledged that the RaTG13 and the CoV/4991 were one and the same virus, stating that the lab had renamed the CoV/4991 to RaTG13 out of convenience, better reflecting current nomenclature. Peter Daszak was also asked for an explanation: as a reason he answered that the CoV/4991 virus, alias the RaTG13 virus, had too few similarities with SARS, and the virus was assessed as interesting, but not very dangerous. Therefore, the virus would have ended up in the freezer and probably forgotten.

Daszek’s statement was quickly torn down by another member of DRASTIC, Francisco de Asis de Ribera, a scientist specializing in data analysis of large amounts of data. He showed that the metadata uploaded by the WIV by mistake proved that the RaTG13/CoV4991 virus had already been sequenced in 2017/2018, something Alina Chan had already pointed out. However, the complete genome was only uploaded to the NBCI database in the course of 2020, after the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Therefore, the RaTG13 virus was by no means forgotten, as Daszak claimed.

Moreover, in August 2020 a paper was published with Daszak and Zhengli as senior authors, describing 630 genetic sequences of the RdRp gene of the different coronaviruses. (15) By meticulously sifting through the Supplementary Data of this article, eight more gene sequences were found that closely resembled the gene sequence of the RaTG13 virus but were not mentioned in the article itself. In an addendum to the February 2020 article (7), Zhengli confirmed these findings. (23) The question is, however, whether this addendum would ever have come about without DRASTIC’s investigative work.

The Mines of Mojiang

Since the statements of both Zhengli and Daszak were unsatisfactory, the DRASTIC researchers looked for a better explanation for the evidence that both Zhengli and Daszak concealed that CoV/4991 was fully identical to the RaTG13 virus. The quest for the proper answer led to an abandoned copper mine in Mojiang, southern China (19). In 2012, 6 men acquired severe pneumonia after being put to work in that old copper mine with orders to clean up a thick layer of guano (bat droppings). Three of them died. The DRASTIC researchers asked themselves whether these men might have become infected with a precursor of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, for example the RaTG13 virus.

In a portrayal of Zhengli, in the Scientific American, she admits that in fact she performed research in the abandoned copper mine of Mojiang after the six men fell ill, but the cause of the pneumonia and three men dying from it was a fungal infection and not an infection with a coronavirus (16). That was a statement that the DRASTIC researchers couldn’t quite apprehend. They suspected that a SARS-like virus had killed the workers and the WIV wanted to keep it concealed for some reason. Again, they searched for an alternative explanation for what might have happened in the old copper mine of Mojiang and since.

Once again, it was due to the Seeker that an exact and detailed revelation of what happened in the abandoned Mojiang copper mine and beyond became available. This was the perfect moment for him to demonstrate his enormous capabilities in excavate information, hidden from virtually everyone else, from the dark recesses of the World Wide Web to the other members of DRASTIC.

Shortly before that, he had already discovered a large Chinese database of academic journals and dissertations called CNKI. He searched this database using Google Translate, using the search term Mojiang, combined with every possible term he could think of that could put him on a trail of what had exactly happened in the Mojiang copper mine. Each search yielded thousands of hits, with half a dozen references to other databases, also consisting of scientific papers, dissertations, graduate theses and even news articles. Night after night, he carefully combed through the results, but found nothing that could possibly be of interest.

Just when he was ready to quit his search, he found what he was looking for: It was a direct hit. The gem was a graduate thesis of a student named Li Xu, studying at Kunming Medical University, and entitled, “The Analysis of Six Patients with Severe Pneumonia Caused by Unknown Viruses”. This graduate thesis accurately describes the course of events surrounding the six ‘miners’ in the abandoned copper mine of Mojiang. The Seeker posted a link to the thesis on Twitter without publicizing it. Shortly afterwards, China cut off access to the CNKI database. The find did not attract much media attention, something the Seeker had anticipated. Posting of this link however, did lead to a significant expansion of the DRASTIC team, and the group was divided into theme groups by Billy Bostickson, to focus more efficiently on the different aspects of the mystery.

Li Xu’s graduation thesis showed that the first four workers started their work, which would last two weeks, on April 2, 2012. On April 16, 2012, they would end their work. A reason for their activities was not given. Between April 10 and 16, 2012, these men, aged 42, 45, 46, and 63, developed symptoms consistent with severe pneumonia. A second group, consisting of two men aged 30 and 32, started their duties on April 22, 2012, at the time the first group was already showing signs of illness. On April 26, 2012, their work was abruptly terminated prematurely, because one of them had also fallen ill.

In the thesis, five of the six workers were mentioned having received local medical care initially, but ultimately all six workers were transferred to Kun Ming Medical University, some 350 kilometers away. Why this happened remains unclear’ given that there are two hospitals (much) closer to Mojiang. The alarm was soon raised in the University Hospital. The graduation thesis states that, after five of the six admissions, the doctor on call reported the cases to the National Department of Medical Affairs in China, for reason of preventing an outbreak of a dangerous infectious disease.

Subsequently, Dr. Xie Can Man – Head of the Pulmonary Department of the Institute of Respiratory Diseases of the 1st Affiliate Hospital of Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province – was consulted one month after patient #1 died and one week after patients #5 and #6, the workers from the second shift, had been released from hospital. Patients #2, #3 and #4 were still admitted, with patient #2 in critical condition. Xie Can Man did not examine the patients himself but counselled via remote consultations. Obviously, extensive additional lab tests were conducted for etiology (cause) of the disease, including throat cultures, blood cultures and various swabs, including testing for SARS. All test results were negative. Consequently, the conclusion of this Dr. Xie Can Man, after several remote consultations, was that it was probably a fungal infection, likely Histoplasmosis, a fungus that indeed can cause severe pneumonia, although generally only in people with compromised immune systems.

Patient #2 died on June 12, 2012. One week after, on June 19, 2012, Dr. Zhong Nan Shan, from the same Institute as Dr. Xie Can Man and China’s top specialist in SARS, got involved in the medical management and treatment of patients #3 and #4. He soon drew the conclusion that it could be a SARS-like syndrome. He had patients #3 and #4 as well as patients #5 and #6 tested for antibodies against SARS. The serological tests were performed by the WIV and all four were positive. Ultimately, three of the six ‘miners’ succumbed. Autopsy was not allowed by the families, possibly for religious reasons.

The graduation thesis supervised by SARS expert Zhong Nan Shan concludes that ‘based on the cases described above and the subsequent research, the unknown virus that led to the severe pneumonia could be a ‘SARS-like’ CoV virus, originating from bats’. The thesis then explicitly states that ‘an article published in Science Magazine in 2005 by scientists Shi Zhengli and Zhang Shu Yi of the Wuhan Institute of Virology concluded that ‘SARS-like’ bat-hosted Coronaviruses are not transmissible to humans. This contradiction demonstrates the importance of these six cases. Furthermore, the thesis specifically recommends that ‘given that all six patients were exposed to many bats and large amounts of feces, as well as inhaling the odor of the feces, it is important to take samples of live bats and their feces.

However, a dissertation by a PhD student, supervised by the president of the Chinese CDC, Gao Fu, comes to a different conclusion: “Therefore, the cause of the outbreak in the abandoned copper mine of Mojiang is not clear. Despite the efforts of many parties, it is still an unresolved mystery.”

This conclusion is astonishing, mainly because it completely disregards the opinion of China’s top expert in SARS – Zhong Nan San – as well as the diagnostics performed by him. The conclusion also ignores the results of the serological tests performed in the WIV, which showed antibodies against SARS virus in all four living workers after they were initially tested negative. The conclusion also ignores that WIV’s researchers indeed adhered to Zhong Nan San’s suggestion to take samples from the bats in the abandoned copper mine of Mojiang. Perhaps the most important justification is that a research group from the WIV, again including Shi Zhengli, in a 2013 publication in Nature, described two previously unknown SARS-like viruses in bats that use the ACE-2 receptor to gain access to human cells, as SARS does (17). That paper describes the achievability to grow one of these two viruses on Vero E6 cells. The conclusion of this paper stated that this virus could possibly jump directly to humans, without an intermediate host. This 2013 publication was followed by a 2015 publication, this time in Nature Medicine (18), which concluded that “there is a potential risk of a renewed outbreak of SARS from coronaviruses circulating in bat colonies.” Important to mention is, that according to this paper an infectious recombinant virus was created entirely synthetically. It’s quite possible that herewith Pandora’s Box was already set ajar.

In this abandoned copper mine in Mojiang samples were collected from which the CoV/4991 virus, also known as RaTG13 virus, the closest relative of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was isolated. Important detail is, that only the genetic profile of the RaTG13 was uploaded to the database of the NCBI, but the raw data and the analyses themselves were never published. Therefore, it cannot be excluded that the Chinese scientists have been manipulating the genetic profile of the CoV/4991 virus to thus create the impression that differences between the RaTG13 virus and the SARS-CoV2 virus were of natural origin. This has been achieved by randomly changing nucleotides (the building blocks of RNA) without affecting the function of the virus. This could adequately explain the discrepancy in about 1000 nucleotides in the RNA between the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the RaTG13 virus, with these differences randomly distributed over the RNA. The above was used by various Western scientists, including Marion Koopmans, as a claim that SARS-CoV-2 would have evolved naturally and had not been fabricated. A scientist named Kristian G. Anderson also supported this, where he could and should have known better (24, 25), since the WIV researchers had already managed to create a recombinant infectious virus fully synthetically in 2015. In part three of this series, I will follow up in detail on this Kristian Andersen and his relationship to Peter Daszak.

Contrarily to the above, it cannot have been difficult for the WIV researchers to introduce these apparently random mutations into the SARS-CoV-2 virus or the RaTG13 virus. The method to be used is well known and is called ‘site directed mutagenesis’, commercially offered as a single package by various manufacturers. By using this method, it is impossible to detect any genetic manipulation afterwards, and any nucleotide in the RNA of a virus can be changed in this way. Considering that only the complete genome for the RaTG13 virus is known, but the source data and analyses are not available, it is impossible to determine how the genetic profile was established. Therefore, a pre-print review calls for withdrawal of all scientific papers on the subject of the RaTG13 virus, as they are unreliable and potentially flawed. (20)

And that brings me back to an earlier statement: if it was possible to grow the SARS-CoV-2 virus, being a close relative of the RaTG13 virus, on Vero E6 cells, and in 2013 it had already been possible with a coronavirus using an ACE -2 receptor as gateway, it is highly unlikely that this would not have been possible with the RaTG13/CoV/4991 virus well before 2020, which as well contradicts claims by Marion Koopmans, that the WIV researchers succeeded to breed a virus in merely three cases.

While in the years after 2013 in all probability a viral infection was considered to be much more assumable than a fungal infection, causing the deaths of three of the six workers at the abandoned Mojiang copper mine – fungi in which Zhengli has never shown any interest – it is striking that the WIV appears highly reluctant to even consider this as a possible cause. In contrast, in the context of COVID-19, the WIV’s viewpoint is consistent with the official narrative that bat-hosted coronaviruses often jump to other hosts, potentially also humans, and therefore can potentially lead to new outbreak of a SARS epidemic.

Also conspicuous is that EcoHealth Alliance itself published a few articles and simulations in which they indicted the danger of new outbreaks caused by a transfer of a SARS-like coronavirus to humans, via the droppings of bats. However, these publications stay silent regarding the events in the Mojiang copper mine.

Final Comments

Additionally, Shi Zhengli was cornered even more by DRASTIC. In January 2021, the Seeker struck again, this time without any effort: He unraveled a database, hosted by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and searched for all PhDs and theses with Zhengli as promotor or coach. He found three. If there was still any doubt about the smokescreen the WIV had erected to hide its true intentions and the course of history, it disappeared like snow in summer due to these three theses.

The contents showed that the WIV researchers themselves never had believed that a fungus was the cause of the deaths of the three miners, denying Zhengli’s statements in Science Magazine (16). Contrarily, they were so anxious about a new outbreak of a SARS-like virus that they even tested the blood of residents of villages surrounding the copper mine in Mojiang for the virus. Additionally, they were fully aware that eight more gene sequences of SARS-like viruses had been found in the Mojiang copper mine well before the COVID19 outbreak in 2019, something that could have aided researchers to better understand the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the early stages of the pandemic. Nonetheless, they kept that information to themselves.

Not long after DRASTIC disclosed these findings, scientists, politicians, and even mainstream media – except in the Netherlands – began to seriously consider the possibility that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could have escaped from the Wuhan lab. It caused President Biden to order US intelligence agencies “to redouble their efforts to gather and analyze information that can bring us closer to an ultimate conclusion.” In addition, Biden said the US, together with its allies should exert pressure upon, and force China to cooperate in a comprehensive, transparent, and evidence-based international investigation, including providing access to all relevant data and evidence.

China reacts stone-cold to this appeal. It will probably never contribute to such an investigation. But it’s clear that a facility like the WIV could trigger an outbreak and that this could happen once more. Science failed in a bewildering and disturbing way where the Seeker and DRASTIC prevailed. It shows the tremendous power of people who know where to find and how to analyze information on the World Wide Web. Science no longer has the exclusive right to data and knowledge but is meticulously monitored by people like the Seeker and research groups like DRASTIC.

Upon returning from Wuhan, Her Majesty Queen Marion felt not at all happy anymore. In her absence, a cold breeze had sprung up that now caused her to shiver. Furthermore, the castle moat started to smell repulsive, because the Twitter channel drained on it and in the past few months that channel had become very murky, from plebs pissing and shitting in it more and more, frustrated with their government’s policy. Additionally, she received nothing but angry letters and every night an anonymous group of people stashed nettles and prickly thistles at the gate of her Royal Palace, in disapproval of her leadership. On top of this heap of thistles and nettles a stuffed animal was consistently found, always a bumblebee.

Hence Queen Marion was ready for some entertainment whereas some awkward matters still had to be coped with. And so, once upon a day, she called out to her court:

“Summon the Court Jester!”

Alas, Maarten Keulemans had just cycled away on his beer bike, leaving the newsroom of the Illustrated Toilet Roll, heading to the canteen of the beer team of the 5th division of the journalistic Saturday Amateurs, after having written a high-quality journalistic trifle and an excellent contemplative trinket that morning. Once he arrived at the canteen, he was told to immediately report at the Royal Palace of Queen Marion. This time a command via WhatsApp was not sufficient. And so, Maarten pedaled as fast as he could from the canteen to the Queen’s Palace.

Upon arrival Queen Marion ordered him to write a new contemplative trinket, in which he had to debunk the rumors that a virus had escaped from the basement of an Imperial Virological Palace of a friendly head of state, Xi-Jinping. He had to spell out to the plebs that, although many genetic codes of many viruses were stored in this basement, no complete infectious viruses were present, and certainly no live bats.

Quickly, Maarten got back on his beer bike and, sighing and moaning, pedaled back to the side office of the Virological Kingdom Erasmus, the newsroom of the Illustrated Toilet Roll. Last week, Queen Marion had promised him that he would soon be allowed to take his well-deserved vacation, for him to camp out in the jungle of the journalistic Realm of Morons, far away from here. Though apparently, she had already forgotten that.

Queen Marion had briefed her court jester well: To loyal readers of the Illustrated Toilet Roll he had to clearly convey that there were no, I repeat, no live bats in the Wuhan lab. Not at all. Absolutely not. And definitely no complete infectious viruses. He had to write down that only bat droppings were kept in the basement of the Imperial Virological Palace of the friendly Head of State in Wuhan. And they then made even smaller bat droppings from that, RNA droppings. And all those droppings were then put in a spreadshit file. And unquestionably, only numbered bat droppings were in that file, no numbered bats, let alone numbered real viruses. Absolutely not!

That obviously was impossible, of course: ever since the Cave Queen of Wuhan and mistress of Xi-Jinping, the bat lady Shi Zhengli, put her court jesters to work in the mine, all bitty-bats were under morning curfew. And the bittybats weren’t allowed to go to sleep until they went past the bat poo analyst, raising their cute little bottoms upward to allow the bat poo analyst putting a swab in.

Certainly, it could be theoretically possible that one of the bitty-bats had creeped into a backpack belonging to one of the bat droppings analysts, as a bored bitty-bat also likes to see the big city. But unfortunately, Chinese Special Investigators (CSI’s) checked all bittybats for a valid bat poo passport at the mine exit. And when a bittybat couldn’t show it, they bashed him ferociously back into the cave. Just leave that to a Chinese SI!

Unfortunately, none of the bittybats carried such a bat poo passport, if only because several million bat droppings had gone missing after slithering out of the spreadsheet file. In short, there was not a single bittybat that could escape the mine and fly to Wuhan. And besides, that, it was a very long flight, much further than Maarten would have to pedal on his beer bike to the caves of Remouchamps, to then find a fugitive ant-eating pangolin. Anyway, the bittybats really didn’t feel like it at all. It was just too far; the journey would have to be undertaken in a backpack…

Like usually, the court jester had performed his job well, not risking disappointing Queen Marion. He had even done his utter best, as failing to complete this mission would lead to banishment from Queen Marion’s Virological Kingdom.

And again, he had surpassed himself. Today he indeed had written a brilliant journalistic trifle that would appear in the Illustrated Toilet Roll the next day… He had stated everything Queen Marion had dictated to him, then re-offered the trifle once more to Queen Marion for proof reading. Via WhatsApp, he had even allowed Emperor Xi-Jinping and Cave Queen and Bat lady Shi-Zhengli to check the journalistic gem, to see whether some small mistakes had sneaked into it. That of course turned out not to be the case, Maarten wouldn’t let that happen, as a proud member of the fifth division of journalistic Saturday Amateurs, he would ensure that.

And thus, it became the Truth. The Greater Truth, as it could only be found in the Illustrated Toilet Roll, for 18 months now. The Greater Truth, dictated by Queen Marion herself, and verified by Emperor Xi-Jinping and Cave Queen Zhengli. The readers of the Illustrated Toilet Roll would not doubt about that, that much was for sure.

Regrettably, it turned out that the Chinese SI’s had seriously neglected their task. They couldn’t really help themselves, as they got high on the large amounts of bat droppings. As a result, backpacks full of bittybats appeared to have escaped the Mojiang mine, all heading for Wuhan. The bittybats’ intention was to neoliberally sell their bat droppings, including the viruses they carried, at the local market, situated right next to the Imperial Virological Palace of Queen Marion’s friendly Head of State. 

Obviously, the Chinese authorities could not allow that, as it is contrary to the Ancient Communist Traditions of the Empire. Of And certainly, those Traditions also apply to the bittybats in the big city. Hence the bittybats were accommodated in the great Imperial Virological Palace of Wuhan, which basement was converted into a bittybat hotel for the occasion, offering lots of luxuriously furnished rooms, where the bittybats felt very welcome. Even their bat poo toilet was cleaned twice a day. Only one thing they didn’t appreciate: having to accept to have a swab pushed between their bittybat bottoms every morning, and to every now and then carry another virus with them. That was annoying, but otherwise the bats considered everything to be fine. Lights were on, food was offered, and it was cozy.

In the meantime, the SI’s were obliged to go through further training, at the same educational facility where also the refresher courses for Uighurs were organized. There, they were educated in the Ancient Communist Traditions so that they could continue to live as wealthy Chinese citizens. The education program that they were offered was very diverse and comprehensive, with a lot of audiovisual support, although the volume appeared to be very high. In addition, many guest teachers from North Korea and Russia were flown in. This, because Emperor Xi-Jinping believed in equal opportunities for everyone, including the Uighurs. Naturally, all of that also applied to the bittybats, although a special training plan, comprising of only four letters, had to be written for them: C, G, A and U. Unfortunately, the bittybats could not distinguish more letters.

Thus ends the fairy tale of Queen Marion and her court jester Maarten.

All’s well that ends well.

Although… Perhaps a third part may follow? Who knows?

In the third and final part of this series, I will review the role of Peter Daszak, the paramount spider in a web, spun by him between the EcoHealth Alliance and the WIV, facilitated by many others. There, I will explain the relationships to the other protagonists, considering they have not yet become known.

I will also focus in detail on the political mission, as it was one, to Wuhan, again with Peter Daszak as participant, but as supposedly known, also with Marion Koopmans. This concludes part 2 of “Ask Marion.”

 

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