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Review 3: "Unusual Features of the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Laboratory Modification Rather Than Natural Evolution and Delineation of Its Probable Synthetic Route"

The manuscript does not demonstrate sufficient scientific evidence to support its claims. Claims are at times baseless and are not supported by the data and methods used. Decision-makers should consider the author's claims in this study misleading.

Published onSep 30, 2020
Review 3: "Unusual Features of the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Laboratory Modification Rather Than Natural Evolution and Delineation of Its Probable Synthetic Route"

RR:C19 Evidence Scale rating by reviewer:

  • Misleading. Serious flaws and errors in the methods and data render the study conclusions misinformative. The results and conclusions of the ideal study are at least as likely to conclude the opposite of its results and conclusions than agree. Decision-makers should not consider this evidence in any decision.

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Reviewer Comments:

I)                     Widely questionable, spurious, and fraudulent claims are made throughout the paper about the thought-to-be precursor of SARS-2, RaTG13, found in bat caves. The author’s attacks include quotes which have not been referenced, including how this “has been disputed and its truthfulness widely questioned. Soon a paper proving that will be submitted.” She then goes on to attack several genome sequences as fraudulent, ranging from pangolin coronaviruses to bat coronaviruses, again without evidence. The reference she cites for that, in fact, does not make that claim.

II)                  In her killing off of RaTG13 (without a shred of evidence or logic) she brings in her favorite “horse,” ZC45, but I do not understand why she chooses this except that it has connections to the Chinese military. She wants this candidate to be the backbone of SARS-2. This “military” virus she writes about as the real predecessor of SARS-2 is over 3,000 nucleotides different from SARS-2. This is a long way off.

III)                She then provides a complex scheme for converting ZC45 into SARS-2. God knows why. All one has to do is synthesize that sequence of SARS-2. Of course, this leaves one wondering how the satanic scientists would know in advance that SARS-2 would be so dangerous.

IV)               And how would the Chinese protect themselves? Well, according to the paper, the military knew it could be stopped by remdesivir. I would surely not want to be in the Chinese military if they were that naive.

V)                 The author also claims that the receptor binding domain (RBD) is suspiciously close to SARS-1. That is frankly untrue. The SARS-CoV-2 RBD sequence is nearly 100% homologous with that of the pangolin sequence —this is the reason she attempts to label the pangolin sequence data as also fraudulent. 

VI)               She states that the furin cleavage sites do not occur in “other viruses of this class.” By class, she means SARS-like. This is not true, as such sites are present in some coronaviruses and are subject to the whims of Mother Nature’s evolutionary bent. In fact, MERS has two such sites and a chicken coronavirus also has two.

VII)             There is also the question of timing. Why is she “publishing” the paper now? Why hasn’t she published before? Is it because it is election time? Why is she rushing to submit so soon? The research is backed by Steve Bannon! I question her credibility.

VIII)           Finally, this paper should be used by teachers forever as a crystallized example of the “Gish Gallop”. Alternatively, it could be used by editors to punish their most unfriendly reviewers.

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