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Category Archives: Human Genetic Engineering

Transplanting Pig Hearts Into Human Beings? It Could Be A Reality By 2021 – International Business Times, Singapore Edition

Critically Endangered And Endangered Species on Earth

The biggest hurdle faced by patients requiring organ transplants is the shortage of organ donors, with patients having to wait for over six months or more to be able to find one. This wait can be the decisive factor in their prognosis. However, a review states that hearts harvested from pigs could soon solve the drastic shortage of donor organs, and save and prolong lives.

A review paper by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) outlines the recent breakthroughs in the area of cardiac xenotransplantationimplantation of hearts from one species into another.

They highlighted the advancements in genetic engineering and the development of drugs that enabled the successful transplantation of pig hearts into baboons in Germany. Dr. Richard N. Pierson III, lead author of the paper, predicted that the first pig-to-human heart transplant could happen as early as the end of 2021.

In the paper, the authors discuss the quantum leaps that have aided in the overcoming of obstacles faced in cardiac xenotransplantation. An example is the recent transplantation of heart from pigs to baboons.

The immune systems of primates such as baboons identify pig hearts as "foreign" and launch an attack against them. This leads to organ rejection. To mitigate this, scientists have utilized genetic engineering techniques to create pigs with organs that lack specific carbohydrates that serve as the key target for the immune system.

Experiments have also shown that proteins in the lining of pig blood vessels and proteins in human blood are incompatible, and result in the formation of blood clots or thrombosis. The authors have also contributed to the development and testing of pigs that are designed to possess genes that responsible for the production of the human variant of a protein known as thrombomodulin, which moderates clotting.

Recipients of organ transplants are required to take medications to suppress the immune system and prevent the rejection of organs. "But those drugs don't work when you put a pig organ into a baboon," said Dr. Pierson.

In order to overcome the problem of blood clots, Dr. Pierson collaborated with other scientists to engineer monoclonal antibodies (mAb) that counter "costimulatory" molecules called CD154 and CD40. The mAbs perform effectively better than conventional immunosuppressants in preventing immune cells in baboons and humans from attacking organs from pigs.

The paper also addresses a valid concern that the current COVID-19 pandemic raises. Will transplantation of animal organs into humans transmit infectious diseases? "That looks quite unlikely. The culmination of a lot of research and hard work by our group and others over the last 35 years is that it now looks as though pig-to-human heart transplantation is feasible," answered Pierson.

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Transplanting Pig Hearts Into Human Beings? It Could Be A Reality By 2021 - International Business Times, Singapore Edition

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A New Factory in France Will Mass-Produce Bugs as Food – Singularity Hub

Though the worlds population is no longer predicted to grow as much as we thought by the end of this century, there are still going to be a lot more people on Earth in 30, 50, and 80 years than there are now. And those people are going to need healthy food that comes from a sustainable source. Technologies like cultured meat and fish, vertical farming, and genetic engineering of crops are all working to feed more people while leaving a smaller environmental footprint.

A new facility in northern France aims to help solve the future of food problem in a new, unexpected, and kind of cringe-inducing way: by manufacturing a huge volume of bugsfor eating.

Before you gag and close the page, though, wait; these particular bugs arent intended for human consumption, at least not directly.

Our food system and consumption patterns are problematic not just because of the food we eat, but because of the food our food eats. Factory farming uses up a ton of land and resources; a 2018 study found that while meat and dairy provide just 18 percent of the calories people consume, it uses 83 percent of our total farmland and produces 60 percent of agricultures greenhouse gas emissions. That farmland is partly taken up by the animals themselves, but its also used to grow crops like corn and soy exclusively for animal consumption.

And were not just talking cows and pigs. Seafood is part of the problem, too. Farm-raised salmon, for example, are fed not just smaller fish (which depletes ecosystems), but also soy thats grown on land.

Enter the insects. Or, more appropriately in this case, enter nsect, the French company with big ambitions to help change the way the world eats. nsect raised $125 million in Series C funding in early 2019, and at the time already had $70 million worth of aggregated orders to fill. Now theyre building a bug-farming plant to churn out tiny critters in record numbers.

Youve probably heard of vertical farms in the context of plants; most existing vertical farms use LED lights and a precise mixture of nutrients and water to grow leafy greens or other produce indoors. They maximize the surface area used for growing by stacking several layers of plants on top of one another; the method may not make for as much space as outdoor fields have, but can yield a lot more than you might think.

nsects new plant will use layered trays too, except theyll be cultivating beetle larvae instead of plants. The ceilings of the facility are 130 feet highthats a lot of vertical space to grow bugs in. Those of us who are grossed out by the thought will be glad to know that the whole operation will be highly automated; robots will tend to and harvest the beetles, and AI will be employed to keep tabs on important growing conditions like temperature and humidity.

The plant will initially be able to produce 20,000 tons of insect protein a year, and nsect is already working with the biggest fish feed company in the world, though production at the new facility isnt slated to start until 2022.

Besides fish feed, nsect is also marketing its product for use in fertilizer and pet food. Its uncertain how realistic the pet food angle is, as Id imagine most of us love our pets too much to feed them bugs. But who knowstheres plenty of hypothesizing that insects will be a central source of protein for people in the future, as theyre not only more sustainable than meat, but in some cases more nutritious too.

Well just have to come up with some really creative recipes.

Image Credit: nsect

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A New Factory in France Will Mass-Produce Bugs as Food - Singularity Hub

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Gene Drives Could Kill Mosquitoes and Suppress Herpesvirus Infections – American Council on Science and Health

Several years ago, a brand new method of genetic engineering called CRISPR was invented, and it was based on discoveries made about the rudimentary "immune system" possessed by bacteria. Essentially, bacteria have a way of "remembering" which viruses had infected them previously, and they possess a molecular system that destroys viral DNA that matches that of a prior infection.

The molecular system consists of a DNA-cutting protein called Cas9. (See infographic from Business Insider below.) When equipped with a special guide RNA, Cas9 can be used to cut specific DNA sequences, for instance, a mutated gene that is causing a health problem. Because a broken DNA molecule is dangerous, the cell will attempt to repair it. If a DNA segment is snuck into the cell before the repair occurs, the cell can insert the new (and usually improved) DNA piece, providing a method to "edit" DNA.

The implications for such a technology are obvious. Such a method could be used, for example, to cure a person of a genetic disease or more easily produce genetically enhanced crops for farmers. But there are even cleverer uses. Because the CRISPR-Cas9 system can be designed to be self-propagating, it can be used to force a gene into a population of animals, such as mosquitoes. If this system targets genes that are important for survival or reproduction, then once released, this "gene drive" would rapidly spread through the population, killing off mosquitoes. (See infographic from The Economist.)

Now, a team of researchers writing in the journal Nature Communications has shown that a gene drive can be used to suppress infection with cytomegalovirus, a type of herpesvirus. The underlying molecular mechanism of the gene drive is similar to others before it: A self-propagating chunk of DNA inserts itself into a gene that is important to the virus. In this case, the gene is UL23, which is needed for cytomegalovirus to avoid the human immune response.

The researchers showed that when a cell is infected by both the normal virus (called "wildtype" or "WT") and the modified virus carrying a gene drive ("GD"), the gene drive was able to quickly and efficiently spread through the entire population, representing up to 95% of the final proportion of viruses. The end result is the suppression of viral infection (in cell culture, not in an animal model) because the gene drive virus lacks the important UL23 gene, which is needed for the virus to avoid a potent immune molecule known as interferon gamma(IFN-), which the authors added to the cell culture.

Could such a system work to treat viral infections in humans? Possibly. The authors note that a different gene (other than UL23) might need to be targeted, since lack of this gene is only fatal to the virus if IFN- is added to the cell culture. There are also concerns that a gene drive system could cause the viruses to mutate in various ways and may have unforeseen consequences.

Still, the technology is powerful and should be researched further. The coronavirus pandemic reminds us that we want to have multiple weapons in the public health arsenal should we be confronted with another life-threatening microbe.

Source: Walter, M., Verdin, E. Viral gene drive in herpesviruses. Nat Commun 11, 4884 (2020). Published: 28-Sept-2020. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-18678-0

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Gene Drives Could Kill Mosquitoes and Suppress Herpesvirus Infections - American Council on Science and Health

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Genetic Engineering Drug Market 2020 | What Is The Estimated Market Size In The Upcoming Years? – The Daily Chronicle

The Global Marketers provides you regional research analysis on Genetic Engineering Drug Market and forecast to 2026. The global Genetic Engineering Drug Market report comprises a valuable bunch of information that enlightens the most imperative sectors of the Genetic Engineering Drug market. The global Genetic Engineering Drug market report provides information regarding all the aspects associated with the market, which includes reviews of the final product, and the key factors influencing or hampering the market growth.

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Main players in the Genetic Engineering Drug Market:

GeneScience Pharmaceuticals Co., LtdBeijing SL Pharmaceutical Co., LtdBiotech Pharmaceutical Co., LtdShenzhen Neptunus Interlong Bio-Technique Co., LtdJiangsu Sihuan Bioengineering Co., LtdTonghua Dongbao Pharmaceutical Co., LtdAnhui Anke Biotechnology (Group) Co., Ltd3SBio Inc.Shanghai Lansheng Guojian Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd

Some of the geographic regions examined in the overall Genetic Engineering Drug Market are:

In addition, the global Genetic Engineering Drug market report delivers brief information about federal regulations and policies that may ultimately affect market growth as well as the financial state. The situation of the global market at the global and regional levels is also described in the global Genetic Engineering Drug market report through geographical segmentation. The Genetic Engineering Drug report introduces speculation attainability evaluation, a task SWOT investigation, and venture yield evaluation.

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Global Genetic Engineering Drug Market Segmentation:

On the Basis of The Application:

30 Years Old30 Years Old-60 Years Old60 Years Old

On the Basis of Type:

Monoclonal AntibodyRecombinant Human ErythropoietinRecombinant Human InterferonRecombinant Human Growth HormoneRecombinant Human Insulin

Moreover, the report comprises the main developments made in the Genetic Engineering Drug market. Porters five force analysis is used to conclude the competition in the Genetic Engineering Drug market along with new entrants and their strategies & tactics. The report involves the value chain analysis which denotes workflow in the Genetic Engineering Drug market. Also, the market has been classified on the basis of category, processes, end-use industry, and region. On the basis of geography, the report Genetic Engineering Drug the market.

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The Genetic Engineering Drug Market research report presents a comprehensive analysis of the market and contains attentive insights, facts, past data, and statistical support, and industry-validated market data. It furthermore contains projections applying a suitable set of assumptions and methodologies. The research Genetic Engineering Drug report provides examination and information according to market segments such as geographies, applications, and industry by considering major players.

Key questions answered in this report

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Genetic Engineering Drug Market 2020 | What Is The Estimated Market Size In The Upcoming Years? - The Daily Chronicle

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Could a mutant fish that was genetically engineered backwards tell us where we came from? – SYFY WIRE

Humans and fish (unless you mean a lungfish) dont really have much in common, except that they are both vertebrates, and all vertebrates have a common ancestor. But how do you go hundreds of millions of years back in time without a fossil of that ancestor?

Technology from the future has now given us a glimpse into the deep past. Biologists from the University of Colorado Boulder have now used CRISPR to genetically reverse-engineer the embryo of a sea lamprey (those freaky fish that stick to their prey and suck its guts out), making it devolve. The wormlike creature they created proved that removing the set of genes that makes vertebrates what they are rewinds evolution. It can also give us a better understanding of the ancestor we have in common with fish and everything else that has a skeleton.

"There is a single gene vaguely similar, and probably distantly related, to the Endothelin receptors in the genome of the invertebrate chordate amphioxus,"biologist Daniel Medeiros, who co-authoreda study recently published in Nature, told SYFY WIRE."What it does is unknown (we have tried to figure out what it does, but have failed so far). So the endothelin receptor likely evolved from some ancient cell surface receptor,perhaps by gaining some new protein coding sequence, or by exon shuffling (being accidentally combined with some other protein-coding sequence from another part of the genome)."

Its kind of like that spell of Ursulas in The Little Mermaid that turned poor unfortunate merpeople into primitive worm-things, just not so grim.

500 million years ago, vertebrates somehow evolved the group of genes that made them vertebrates. These genes make up the Endothelin (Edn) signaling pathway, which switches on specialized cells that develop into parts of the skeleton, the peripheral nervous system and pigment cells to multiply as the embryo develops. These cells are neural crest cells (NCCs). What Square and his team wanted to test was whether taking away the Endothelin signaling pathway would turn a vertebrate into an invertebrate that could be eerily similar to something that existed before skeletons were a thing.

Sea lampreys were used in the experiment because they evolutionarily diverged from other fish around the same time that vertebrates evolved the Endothelin signaling pathway. These jawless fish are living fossils, with ancient vertebrate features that at least give some idea of an early phase of vertebrate evolution.

"The evolution of what we think are two differentendothelin signaling pathways allowed neural crest cells to divide themselvesup into different groupscapable of doing different things," Medeiros said."We think, based on the lamprey mutant phenotypes, that this facilitated the evolution of different types of vertebrates with different head skeleton features."

Endothelin signals are zapped to different cells in order to tell them what functions to carry outthis is intercellular signaling. Ligands, or molecules that bind to other (often larger) molecules for a specific biological function, are released by signaling cells in this process. The ligands produce a chemical signal when they bind with a protein they target, which is the receptor of that signal. Ligands typically bind only to one particular receptor. Multiple ligands and receptors dedicated to varying functions are involved in Endothelin signaling.

"The endothelin ligands really appeared out of nowhere;there is nothing remotely like them in any invertebrate," Medeiros said. "They must have beentranscribed randomly from some non protein-coding DNA on accident at some point.This has been shown to happen in other animals, like fruit flies.Since they are not very large genes, I think that is a good possibility."

In an earlier study, Medierosand his team had analyzed the Endothelin signals in a frog and compared them to those in the lamprey, which they found has specific ligand and receptor pairs that are almost like similar pairs found in jawed vertebrates. This analysis formed the basis of what would be their work with CRISPR.

Genome duplication was previously thought to be behind the evolution of new traits, since copies of genes that already exist can assume new and possibly, such as in the emergence of vertebrates, unprecedented functions.

"You sequence the gene you targeted to make sure that you efficiently broke the gene, and can then analyze the defects caused by missing the gene," said Medeiros. "The CRISPR method uses the 'programmable'Cas9 enzyme, which cuts DNA. We can injected a solution with the Cas9 enzyme and a piece of RNA into the cell with a tinyglass syringe. In the cell, the Cas9 grabs the RNA guide, then moves into the nucleus and cuts the DNA where we want it, then you let the mutated embryo develop."

Mutant sea lamprey larvae showed just about none of the traits that distinguish vertebrates. What makes this experiment such a breakthrough is that it has been notoriously difficult to find the exact roles for genes that exist only in vertebrates. The team also realized that while gene duplication is definitely involved in evolution, it was not the holy grail that could give rise to an entirely new group of genes, such as NCCs, on its own. Formation of new genes has to be going on at the same time as duplications in order for that to happen.

Could you devolve a human like this? Probably not, but its awesome sci-fi-horror movie fodder. What might eventually be done, if you ask Medeiros, is the cancelling out of detrimental genes that could lead to defects.

"As long was we survive as a technological species, we will eventually understand genomes, how they have changed during evolutionto make new organisms, and also how it they are disrupted in genetically based diseases and cancer," he said."At that point we can rewrite the instructions in an intelligent way to create essentially whateverbiological outcome we want."

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Could a mutant fish that was genetically engineered backwards tell us where we came from? - SYFY WIRE

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The virus causing COVID-19 most likely evolved in natural wildlife populations before spreading to humans – Health Feedback

CLAIM

[G]enetic evidence within the Spike gene of SARS-Cov-2 genome [] does exist and suggest that the SARS-CoV-2 genome should be a product of genetic manipulation; The characteristics and pathogenic effects of SARS-CoV-2 are unprecedented

DETAILS

Incorrect: The genetic features of SARS-CoV-2 are common in other coronaviruses that occur in nature and have animal reservoirs. Therefore, these features do not prove in any way that the virus was constructed in a laboratory or genetically modified.Unsupported: The author does not provide evidence to support her claim that the virus causing COVID-19 was created in a lab. The pre-print cherry-picks data and overlooks alternative hypotheses about the virus evolving in nature. Contrary to the claim, the most likely scenario is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was transferred to humans from bats or other animal reservoirs, similar to how other viruses were transferred to humans like the SARS-CoV-1 virus (a coronavirus closely related to SARS-CoV-2) and Ebola.

KEY TAKE AWAY

Although the exact origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains unknown, previous claims that the virus contained artificial elements or that it had been patented were debunked. The virus most likely originated in nature, probably in bats, according to the genetic similarity between SARS-CoV-2 and other animal coronaviruses. Dr. Yan claims to prove that the SARS-COV-2 virus originated in a lab, but a careful analysis of her pre-print actually shows this claim is unsubstantiated.

REVIEW On 14 September 2020, the Chinese virologist Li-Meng Yan published a a pre-print (an unpublished draft of a science paper) on the website Zenodo claiming to provide evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was created in a laboratory and is not of natural origin. Many outlets promoted the pre-print and Fox News aired an interview with Yan and Tucker Carlson on 16 September 2020. Hundreds of posts shared the unsupported claim, receiving millions of interactions, according to the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle.

This pre-print resurrected the baseless claim that SARS-CoV-2 is man-made, a claim that has been repeated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and Health Feedback previously covered here, here, here, and here. Yans pre-print, which was not peer-reviewed by other experts in the field, claims that some unique characteristics in the SARS-CoV-2 genome prove that the virus is man-made. However, experts disputed Yans pre-print for being flawed and containing unsubstantiated claims. Gkikas Magiorkinis, Assistant Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology and Scientific Coordinator of the National Reference Centre for Retroviruses at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, said:

[C]losely related coronaviruses have been retrieved from animals such as bats and pangolins, which makes the scenario of naturally occurring evolution far more likely than any scenario of laboratory manipulation. In fact, we have [a] clear history of zoonotic origin of lethal coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. The paper by Li-Meng et al. does not provide any robust evidence of artificial manipulation, no statistical test of alternative hypotheses (natural evolution vs artificial manipulation) and is highly speculative.

Specifically, Yan focuses on three features of the viral genome to claim that SARS-CoV-2 is man-made. The first feature is an allegedly high similarity between the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 and the previously known bat coronavirus ZC45. According to Yan, this similarity indicates that this bat coronavirus served as a template to construct SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory. However, the bat coronavirus is only 89% related to SARS-CoV-2. In virology terms, that is very distant, said Stanley Perlman, a professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Iowa, in an explanation to FactCheck.org.

According to Yan, the second genetic feature of SARS-CoV-2 that suggests it is man-made is the spike (S) protein that resembles that of SARS-CoV-1 from the 2003 epidemic in a suspicious manner. S protein allows the SARS-CoV-2 virus to bind to and infect animal cells. SARS-CoV-2 lacks a set of key amino acids within the S protein that conferred SARS-CoV-1 its super-affinity for human cells[1,2], however it can bind to human cells with a greater affinity than SARS-CoV-1. If scientists wanted to engineer improved binding for the S protein in SARS-CoV-2, they would most likely use the already-known and efficient amino acid sequences in SARS-CoV-1 instead of engineering a new amino acid sequence. The differences in S protein between the two viruses strongly suggest that the SARS-CoV-2 evolved independently of human intervention and instead resulted from natural evolutionary processes, undermining the claim that the virus was engineered[3].

The third genetic feature highlighted in Yans pre-print is the presence of unique restriction sites within the S protein of SARS-CoV-2, which she claims contribute to the increased virulence and pathogenicity of the virus. Restriction sites are specific recognition sequences in the genome that researchers use to cut and manipulate genes. Experts who reviewed the pre-print consider this evidence to be incorrect, as these restriction sites frequently appear in nature. Virologist and assistant research professor at Rutgers University Jason Kaelber explained in a point-by-point response to Yans pre-print in Twitter, that these types of restriction sites easily emerge in nature, as it has been documented for flu[4].

Based on these three genomic features, Yans pre-print concludes that SARS-CoV-2 does not derive from natural viral evolution, but from genetic engineering to eventually become a highly-transmissible, onset-hidden, lethal, sequelae-unclear, and massively disruptive pathogen. Cat coronaviruses, which are unlikely to be genetically engineered, also cause a wide spectrum of disease outcomes similar to COVID-19 in humans[5]. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, also discussed these three lines of evidence in a Twitter thread stating that these genetic features also appear in nature and do not prove that the virus was created in a laboratory.

According to an 11 July 2020 statement from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) where Yan worked as a post-doctoral fellow, Yan never conducted any research on human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus at HKU during December 2019 and January 2020, and what she might have emphasised in the reported interview has no scientific basis but resembles hearsay.

In addition to insufficient support for the claim that the virus is man-made, the authors of the pre-print are not affiliated with a research institution, but rather the Rule of Law Society & Rule of Law Foundation, two related organizations with no prior record of scientific publications. The authors do not disclose any potential conflict of interests, even though these entities have connections to the former chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon and the exiled political activist Guo Wengui. Bannon and Wengui published misinformation about COVID-19 in the past.

Scientists and public health authorities repeatedly refuted similar claims about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. On 19 February 2020, 27 eminent public health scientists stated in The Lancet that numerous international studies analyzing the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife as have so many other emerging pathogens. On 30 April 2020, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence concurred with the scientific consensus. Indeed, the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans is a common process called zoonosis, which is responsible for about 60% of the emerging infectious diseases globally, according to the World Health Organization.

The pre-print ignores all recent data from coronaviruses in pangolins and bats, which demonstrate that genetically similar coronaviruses occur in nature and have animal reservoirs. A 17 March 2020 study published in Nature Medicine concluded that SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in pangolins or bats and later developed the ability to infect humans[3]. Accordingly, a recent publication in Science Advances suggests that recombination of SARS-CoV-2 with pangolin coronaviruses was possibly a critical step in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2s ability to infect humans[6]. This process of recombination occurs naturally when two viruses infect simultaneously the same host and exchange pieces of genetic material, resulting in a novel virus with different characteristics to the viruses it comes from.

In summary, the genetic features of SARS-CoV-2 used to support the claim that the virus is man-made are not unique and occur naturally in other coronaviruses. The pre-print does not provide any evidence that the virus has been created in a laboratory setting, and thus the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 is man-made remains unsupported by available scientific evidence. Although the possibility of a laboratory leak cannot be completely excluded until the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is precisely determined, evidence from genetic analyses of the virus indicates that it likely originated in bats and later made the jump into humans, probably involving other intermediary animals[7].

Several competing hypotheses have been proposed to explain where the novel coronavirus actually came from. Health Feedback investigated the three most widespread origin stories for the novel coronavirus (engineered, lab leak or natural infection), and examined the evidence for or against each proposed hypothesis in this Insight article.

This article in Medium, comprehensively summarizes the scientific flaws in Yans arguments.This review by National Geographic provides additional comments from scientists.

This fact check is available at IFCNs 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Clickhere, for more.

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