The SARS-CoV2 virus, which is at the heart of the current Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed over 7,400 lives and over 1,90,000 cases globally so far, may not be a virus created in lab but maybe one that is naturally evolved, scientists said.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Medicine on Tuesday, a team of researchers ruled out the possibility of the SARS-CoV2 virus being a “laboratory construct or purposefully manipulated virus.”

“It is improbable that SARS-CoV2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus... If genetic manipulation had been performed, one of the several reverse-genetic systems available for betacoronaviruses would probably have been used. However, the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone,” said scientists led by Kristian Andersen, Director of Infectious Disease Genomics at Scripps Research Institute in California.

The conclusion arrived at by the scientists, who analysed the currently available genomic data of the virus, settles the dust on speculations that it might be a bioweapon or a manipulated virus that leaked from a defence lab.

Some, including politicians from China and the US, have been trading charges against each other that the virus is a bioweapon created in a lab.

Naturally-evolved virus

“Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin,” the scientists said, adding that it, in all likelihood, is a naturally evolved virus.

The protein present on the surface on the virus has the ability to bind to a protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) present on the membrane of human cells. Even though this binding is strong, it is more likely the result of natural selection or mutation, an evolution strategy adopted by organisms to survive in hostile or altering environments.

The scientists postulated two plausible scenarios. It could either be that the mutation would have occurred before the virus jumped from an existing host animal, or that happened after entering a human being. According to the scientists, unravelling this mystery would be significant, as each would require a different strategy to deal with the current as well as re-emerging outbreaks.