Lab-leak fears are putting virologists under scrutiny

Original article from the Washington Post by Joel Achenbach. January 18, 2023

BOSTON — The experiment probed a coronavirus mystery: Why is the omicron variant apparently less deadly than the original Wuhan strain?

The researchers at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories (the NEIDL, pronounced like “the needle”) created a new version of the virus, combining the spike protein that studs the surface of omicron with the backbone of the ancestral strain.

The result: The “chimeric” virus was only a little less deadly than the Wuhan strain, killing 80 percent rather than 100 percent of laboratory mice that are particularly sensitive to the virus. But it was still much deadlier in these mice than omicron. This suggested that the spike protein wasn’t the only element of omicron making it less lethal. Another mutation had to be playing a role.

On Oct. 14, the researchers posted an early draft of their results online. Such studies usually fly under the radar. Not this one.

Click to read the full article in the Washington Post.