Live Science contacted several experts, and the reality, they said, is that we may never know where this deadly coronavirus originated.
Among the theories circulating: That SARS-CoV-2 arose naturally, after
passing from bats to a secondary animal and then to humans; that it was
deliberately engineered and then accidentally released by humans; or
that researchers were studying a naturally-occurring virus that
subsequently escaped from a high-security biolab, the Wuhan Institute of
Virology (WIV) in China. The head of the lab at WIV, for her part, has
emphatically denied any link to the institute.
Just today (April 18), the vice director of WIV Zhiming Yuan CGTN, the Chinese state broadcaster, said "there is no way this virus came
from us," NBC News reported. "We have a strict regulatory regime and
code of conduct of research, so we are confident."
Furthermore, the notion that SARS-CoV-2 was genetically engineered is pure conspiracy, experts told Live Science, but it's still impossible
to rule out the notion that Chinese scientists were studying a
naturally-occurring coronavirus that subsequently "escaped" from the
lab. To prove any of these theories takes transparent data and
information, which is reportedly not happening in China, scientists say.
Several experts have said to Live Science and other media outlets have
reported that the likeliest scenario is that SARS-CoV-2 is naturally
"Based on no data, but simply [a] likely scenario is that the virus went from bats to some mammalian species, currently unknown despite
speculation, [and] spilled over to humans," said Gerald Keusch,
associate director of the Boston University National Emerging Infectious
Diseases Laboratories. This spillover event may have happened before
the virus found its way into a live animal market, "which then acted as
an amplifying setting with many more infections that subsequently spread
and the rest is history," Keusch said. "The timeline is fuzzy and I
don't think we have real data to say when these things began, in large
part because the data are being held back from inspection," Keusch told
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is most closely related to coronaviruses found in certain populations of horseshoe bats that live about 1,000 miles
(1,600 kilometers) away in Yunnan province, China. The first known
outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in humans occurred in Wuhan and initially was
traced to a wet seafood market (which sold live fish and other animals),
though some of the earliest cases have no link to that market,
according to research published Feb. 15 in the journal The Lancet.
What's more, despite several proposed candidates, from snakes to pangolins to dogs, researchers have failed to find a clear "intermediate
host" — an animal that would have served as a springboard for
SARS-CoV-2 to jump from bats to humans. And if horseshoe bats were the
primary host, how did the bat virus hop from its natural reservoir in a
subtropical region to the bustling city of Wuhan hundreds of miles away?