A Chinese virologist who alleges the coronavirus was cooked up in a military lab has published a report which she claims backs up her theory.
Li-Meng Yan, who alleges to be a former researcher at the Hong Kong School of Public Health, says the virus was built by merging the genetic material of two bat coronaviruses.
She claims its spike protein – a structure on the surface of the virus which it uses to bind with cells – was edited to make it easier for the virus to latch on to human cells.
But scientists have slammed her report — which she promised she would release in an interview last week — as 'unsubstantiated' and said it 'cannot be given any credibility'.
Research papers have already determined the origin of the virus as bats, leading to top experts dismissing suggestions the virus was created by humans as having 'zero evidence'.
SARS-CoV-2 — the scientific name of the pathogen — is the seventh coronavirus known to infect humans and jumped to people after an earlier version of it mutated. The previous virus is thought to be one that infected bats and then reached humans via another animal.
Ms Yan's report has not been published in a scientific journal and has not been peer-reviewed, meaning it has not been checked and approved by scientists.
But it has gained widespread public attention, being viewed more than 150,000 times since it was posted yesterday on the website Zenodo, which is operated by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.
Ms Yan posted the report online alleging that the coronavirus was designed. But scientists have previously dismissed her claims and said there is 'exactly zero evidence'
Donald Trump has previously said he has been told that the virus appeared to have been genetically engineered
Ms Yan writes that her research discounts the theory that coronavirus evolved in the wild and was then transferred to humans, claiming it 'lacks substantial support'.
'SARS-CoV-2 shows biological characteristics that are inconsistent with a naturally occurring virus,' she writes.
'The evidence shows that [the virus] should be a laboratory product created by using bat coronaviruses ZC45 and/or ZXC21 as a template and/or backbone.'
She alleges that the virus 'should' have been built using stores of these bat viruses of which she claims samples are kept in Hong Kong and China.
President Donald Trump said he has seen evidence that coronavirus started in the Wuhan virology laboratory, as he warned he could impose tariffs of $1 trillion on China in retribution for the pandemic.
The president made the explosive charge that the coronavirus that has caused millions of infections and wreaked havoc on the global economy may have been created in the Chinese lab during his coronavirus press briefing Thursday.
He also suggested the federal government is exploring ways to punish China for triggering the outbreak by imposing tariffs but he stopped short of saying he would refuse to pay back US debts.
'Yes I have. Yes I have,' Trump said when asked if he had seen proof the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Technology.
The lab is located near a wet market that has been identified as the likely epicenter of the outbreak that took place late last year.
However, the president would not divulge what the evidence was that confirmed his suspicions, when asked by a reporter.
'I can't tell you that. I am not allowed to tell you that,' he responded.
Ms Yan also alleges that her work shows the virus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, could be built in just six months in the report's abstract, but she does not return to the subject later in the paper.
Dr Andrew Preston, an expert in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath, blasted her report as being 'reminiscent of a conspiracy theory'.
'The author's affiliation is the Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation, New York,' he said.
'On their website the vision of this organisation is "to permit the people of China to live under a national system based on the rule of law, independent of the political system of the People's Republic of China" and its mission is "to expose corruption, obstruction, illegality, brutality, false imprisonment, excessive sentencing, harassment, and inhumanity pervasive in the political, legal, business and financial systems of China".
'Given the unsubstantiated claims in the publication, which has not been peer reviewed, the report cannot be viewed with any credibility as it stands.'
Dr Michael Head, a global health expert at the University of Southampton, said the conspiracy theory peddled by the report has been 'doing the rounds throughout the pandemic'.
'Ultimately, it could be damaging to public health if reported non-critically without looking at the wider evidence,' he said.
'If people are exposed to and then believe conspiracy theories, this will likely have a negative impact on efforts to keep Covid-19 cases low and thus there will be more deaths and illness than there needs to be.
'The genomics of the virus have been