Since the coronavirus first appeared back in November, scientists have desperately searching for the source of the virus.
Now, researchers from Scripps Research have analysed the public genome sequence data for the virus, and have found ‘no evidence’ that the virus was made in a lab.
Instead, their analysis suggests that that the virus is the product of natural evolution.
Dr Kristian Andersen, an author of the study, said: “By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes.”
Covid 19 Time Series
After the virus started to spread, Chinese scientists sequenced its genome, making the data available to scientists worldwide.
In this study, the researchers analysed the genome for ‘spike proteins’ - proteins on the outside of the virus that it uses to grab and penetrate the walls of human cells.
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Their analysis revealed that these proteins were so effective at binding to human cells that it’s very likely to have arisen as a result of natural selection.
Meanwhile, the virus’ overall molecular structure also indicates that it arose from natural selection.
In a statement about the findings, the researchers explained: "If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness.
“But the scientists found that the SARS-CoV-2 backbone differed substantially from those of already known coronaviruses and mostly resembled related viruses found in bats and pangolins.”
Based on the findings, the researchers suggest that the virus likely originated in another animal, before jumping into humans.
While further research is needed to confirm exactly where the virus came from, the researchers hope their finding will squash any claims that the virus was manmade.
Dr Josie Golding, epidemics lead at the Wellcome Trust, said: “[The findings are] crucially important to bring an evidence-based view to the rumours that have been circulating about the origins of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) causing COVID-19.
"They conclude that the virus is the product of natural evolution, ending any speculation about deliberate genetic engineering."