This electron microscope image shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (yellow) emerging from the surface of cells (pink). (Credit: NIAID)
Speculation about the origin of the novel coronavirus has spread online since the beginning of the pandemic, with Facebook posts and tabloids making baseless claims the virus was created in a lab.
But it isn’t only social media users who have perpetuated the conspiracy theory the virus was bioengineered. In Illinois, a prominent state politician suggested the same thing:
“This man-made killer — whoever went in there and man-made it, perhaps they should be in there now trying to figure out how to turn this around,” Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford of Maywood said during a May 15 appearance on Fox 32.
“I don’t believe it’s a natural virus,” Lightford continued, after the program’s host asked Lightford if she thinks the virus did not occur naturally. “I believe someone was in cahoots for some reason and I think it just got a little bit out of control and spread a whole lot further than they anticipated.”
But to leading experts, the research is clear: the genetic structure of the virus shows it could not have been created in a lab — or be “man-made,” as Lightford claimed.
An article published March 17 in Nature Medicine says the genetic makeup of the coronavirus does not indicate it was altered. Instead, the researchers who conducted the analysis present two plausible explanations for the origin of the virus: natural selection in an animal host, or natural selection in humans after the virus spread from animals.
That finding doesn’t rule out the much-publicized theory the virus may have somehow escaped from a lab in China where it was being studied, though the government there has denied this. But what is known makes it clear the virus itself is not the result of human tampering.
“Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” the article states, using the scientific name for the virus that causes COVID-19.
When we reached out to Lightford, she acknowledged she had no evidence to support her assertion the virus was created by humans.
“I have nothing to back it up,” she wrote in a text in response to our call. “I was generally speaking. Only my opinion.”
Lightford said the novel coronavirus was “man-made.”
But research shows the genetic features of the virus rule out the possibility it was created or manipulated in a lab. The consensus among experts is that it originated in animals before being transmitted to humans.
We rate her claim False.
FALSE — The statement is not accurate.
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