A study from the Wuhan Institute of Virology describes the assembly of part of a monkeypox viral genome for use in a diagnostic test. Although the researchers only created a fraction of the genome, and it matches a different version of the virus, social media posts are using the study to make unsubstantiated claims that the current monkeypox outbreak is the result of a lab leak. .
On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox, a less dangerous relative of smallpox, a public health emergency of international concern.
Monkeypox is a viral disease. People are usually infected sporadically in forested parts of central and western Africa after interaction with an infected animal. However, once infected, people can spread the virus to others through close contact.
That is what is happening now with the current outbreak, which was first recognized in the UK in May. So far, cases have mainly affected men who have sex with men, but anyone who is exposed can contract the virus. (For more information, see SciCheck’s “Monkeypox Questions and Answers.”)
Of the two main types of monkeypox virus, the current outbreak is caused by the less severe West African version, or “clade.”
There were 4,907 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the US and 21,148 cases worldwide as of July 28, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States is among the nations with the most cases, raising concern among some Americans about contracting the disease, despite knowing little about it.
The rapid rise in cases has led to the spread of unsubstantiated claims on social media about the origins of the recent outbreak.
Social media posts cite a chinese study published in June in the scientific journal Virologica Sinica to assert without evidence that the monkeypox virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The claim is similar to previous unsupported theories about the sourcens of SARS-CoV-2.
But experts say the study cited in the publications does not show a monkeypox lab leak. The genome sequence used in the study is genetically distinct from the virus circulating in the recent outbreak, and no monkeypox virus was ever created in the study.
Jimmy Dore, a frequent provider of misinformation on “The Jimmy Dore Show” on YouTube, produced a segment on July 20 with the headline “Wuhan Lab was experimenting on monkeypox before the outbreak.”
During the segment, Dore showed a video of Dr. John Campbellmea retired nurse educatordiscussing monkeypox and the Chinese study.
Campbell says in the video that the National Institute of Health and the Wuhan Institute of Virology were conducting experiments on monkeypox before the outbreak and misleadingly suggests that viewers can “draw some parallels” between the origins of the monkeypox outbreak. and the origins of SARS-CoV. -two.
After playing a clip of Campbell saying that the NIH and the Wuhan Institute had been studying monkeypox before the outbreak, Dore asked, “What are the odds of that?”
Dore continued, “Anytime there’s a new outbreak now, there’s a 50/50 chance it started in the Wuhan lab funded by Dr. Fauci and the NIH,” referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Diseases. infectious.
Kurt Metzger, a comedian and Dore’s partner on the show, added, “not even a different virology lab accident, the same.”
The video has received more than 49,000 views on Facebook and 121,000 views on YouTube.
Dore posted another video two days later with the headline “Corporate Media Lies About ‘Debunking’ Monkeypox Leakage Theory”, sharing the same baseless claim and playing the same Campbell clip.
Other online posts make similar unsubstantiated claims that monkeypox was designed in a laboratory in Wuhan.
“Funny how monkeypox was made in the Wuhan lab a few months ago! WHO corrupt to the core, bought and paid for by Pfizer and Gates,” says one cheep.
Study of the assembled partial viral genome for the detection of monkeypox
The claims made by Dore and the other publications about the Chinese study are inaccurate or misleading on several points.
First, the study was not conducted by the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory associated with theories about the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
Social media posts also misrepresent the purpose and results of the study, as our colleagues at Health Feedback have also explained.
Dr. Rebecca Fischer, a assistant teacher professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Texas A&M University, told us in an email that the study “does not prove, nor does it suggest or seek to prove, that the monkeypox virus associated with the current international spread originated in a laboratory, nor in China. ”
The main goal of the study was to test a method known as transformation-associated recombination, which is used to assemble large pieces of DNA. Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology used it in this case to create a portion of the monkeypox viral genome that could be used in a molecular diagnostic test known as PCR, or polymerase chain reaction.
Benjamin Neuman, chief virologist at the Global Health Research Complex and professor of biology at Texas A&M University, told us in an email that there is no link between the recent monkeypox outbreak and the Wuhan study.
Neuman said the study is a “white paper, testing a new way to assemble small pieces of DNA into larger pieces of DNA.”
“In molecular biology, making small DNA fragments is easy, but making larger DNA strands is very difficult. So people have found creative ways to join small strands of DNA together to make larger ones, this is one of many,” added Neuman. “People assemble DNA in laboratories and companies around the world every day; it is an activity at the heart of modern biology and medical science.”
“The process described here is not the same as creating a virus,” Fischer said.
The monkeypox sequence that the scientists used to assemble the partial genome is also different from the virus. now circulating. Although the current outbreak is due to a virus from the West African clade, the viral sequence used in the research belongs to the most lethal. Clade of the Congo Basin.
The monkeypox virus is quite large, with 197 kilobases, or kb, of DNA. The study, however, assembled less than a third of the total genome, a fragment that is not enough to produce a functional virus. The study authors stated in the article that they limited their work to a fragment of the monkeypox viral genome specifically for safety reasons.
“In this study, although a complete viral genome would be the ideal reference template for detecting MPXV by qPCR, we only sought to assemble a 55-kb viral fragment, less than a third of the MPXV genome,” the authors wrote. , using abbreviations to refer to the monkeypox virus. “This assembly product is fail-safe by virtually eliminating any risk of bouncing back into an infectious virus while providing multiple qPCR targets to detect MPXV or other orthopoxvirus.”
No monkeypox virus was ever assembled in the study.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
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