A team of international researchers, including from India, have found that Covid virus’ contains tiny chunk of DNA that matched sequence patented by Moderna three years before the onset of pandemic.
The findings, published in Frontiers in Virology, has raised fresh suspicion that Covid virus may have been tinkered with in a lab, Daily Mail reported.
The scientists team, including Akhil Varshney from Dr. Shroff Charity Eye Hospital in New Delhi, showed a tiny snippet of a genetic material owned by Moderna in the virus’s spike protein.
But records show that Moderna had filed the patent in February 2016 as part of its cancer research division, the report said.
In the study, the team compared Covid’s makeup to millions of sequenced proteins on an online database.
The virus is made up of 30,000 letters of genetic code that carry the information it needs to spread, known as nucleotides.
It is the only coronavirus of its type to carry 12 unique letters that allow its spike protein to be activated by a common enzyme called furin, allowing it to spread between human cells with ease.
Analysis of the original Covid genome found the virus shares a sequence of 19 specific letters with a genetic section owned by Moderna, which has a total of 3,300 nucleotides, the report said.
The patented sequence is part of a gene called MSH3 that is known to affect how damaged cells repair themselves in the body.
Scientists have highlighted this pathway as a potential target for new cancer treatments.
Twelve of the shared letters make up the structure of Covid’s furin cleavage site, with the rest being a match with nucleotides on a nearby part of the genome.
The researchers suggest the virus may have mutated to have a furin cleavage site during experiments on human cells in a lab.
“The matching code may have originally been introduced to the Covid genome through infected human cells expressing the MSH3 gene,” wrote Dr Balamurali Ambati, from the University of Oregon, in the study.
At the same time, the team also claimed that there is a one-in-three-trillion chance Moderna’s sequence randomly appeared through natural evolution.
“We’re talking about a very, very, very small piece made up of 19 nucleotides,” Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, was quoted as saying to Daily Mail.
“So it doesn’t mean very much to be frank, if you do these types of searches you can always find matches.
“Sometimes these things happen fortuitously, sometimes it’s the result of convergent evolution (when organisms evolve independently to have similar traits to adapt to their environment).
“It’s a quirky observation but I wouldn’t call it a smoking gun because it’s too small.
“It doesn’t get us any further with the debate about whether Covid was engineered,” Young said.
A statement from the US drug maker Moderna is awaited, the report said.