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Call to Look Again

More than a dozen researchers are calling for a new investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 in a letter to Science.

The letter-writers — who include Marc Lipsitch from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, the University of Arizona's Michael Worobey, and Stanford University's David Relman — argue that the theories of accidental release and zoonotic spillover were not given equal consideration in the recent inquiry conducted by the World Health Organization in conjunction with China.

The WHO investigation found SARS-CoV-2 likely had an animal source — probably bats — and that the lab-leak theory was extremely unlikely. Its resulting report drew criticism from a number of countries, including the US, UK, and Japan, which argued that the investigators did not have access to all the needed data. In the new letter in Science, Relman and his colleague add that the report gave the lab accident theory short shrift, devoting only four of 313 pages to it, and say a new, independent investigation that opens public health and research lab records to the public is needed.

"There just hasn't been enough definitive evidence either way," Worobey tells the LA Times, "so both of those remain on the table for me."

Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Institute of Virology tells MIT's Technology Review that concerns about a lab leak are overblown and will harm research into pathogens that pose spillover risks.

David Robertson from the University of Glasgow further tells the LA Times that he didn't see the point of the letter. "Nobody is saying that a lab accident isn't possible — there's just no evidence for this beyond the Wuhan Institute of Virology being in Wuhan," he says there.