ForumTouchy Subjects ► The plausability of COVID19 being man-made
...okay, now we’ve completely strayed from the man-made virus thing, just making it faster to get patient zero.
  
E7 said:
Why would you need so many animals? I thought the virus outbreak was from eating raw or live animals so could you just hypothetically have around 20 people eat live animals infected with the a virus daily till you got one that spreads?
Okay, so let's say that's 20 bats eaten per day. You also can't just like inject a bat with infected blood and eat it right away, you need to let it incubate, see if the bat carries the virus, then eat it. Okay, let's say you're keeping 10 days of bats at a time.

You now have 200 bats that you need to feed, maintain, house, track viral states, and of course eat. Then you need to be finding 20 more bats every day. Boy howdy, that's a lot of bats. Plus you need to be going out and finding wild bats with more diseases because you don't know what disease is going to work, and then you need to keep those bats separated and tracked so you know what disease you're actually testing on people at any given time.

Then, of course, you'd need to have 20 people who are going to eat bats every day, and you'll need to swap them out regularly because they could be developing immunity to your viruses when they eat the meat. You need to be doing extensive bloodwork and testing to see if the diseases you're trying to engineer are entering the human population, infecting them, being carried by them, if they're the actual cause of illness if somebody does get sick, how fast they reproduce, etc. Really technical stuff.

Okay, now you need to do this until you get a disease that is:

1) Novel, it can't be the same disease you injected into the bats, otherwise it's a known disease and humans probably have antibodies
2) Makes a human sick
3) Transfers from human to human
4) Can be reproduced across all humans
5) Current antibodies in the general population from similar diseases don't fight this disease

Probably tons of other technical biology hurdles that I can't even conceptualize because I don't have the background.

By the way, novel pandemic diseases are super common in the arc of history, but very rare relative to the rate humans eat animals. Even before antibiotics in food supplies, humans would eat millions and millions of animals for every significant novel disease that enters the human population from those animals.

So now you're basically trying to take a process that takes a hundred years to do naturally using billions of people and speed it up fast enough to be done by 20 people eating bats. The odds of success here are extremely, extremely low.
  
The rate of viral mutation is too low to feasibly transfer to humans without genetic engineering. That's the answer I was looking for because it should be easy enough to find an estimated rate of mutation.
  
But that's not why. That's one tiny fragment of why. The rate of mutation, the likelihood of needing the type of mutations, the way viruses function within a body forcing a constant stream of a new bodies to do this kind of stuff, access to enough novel viruses, the scientific/medical knowledge and equipment needed to track and progress, there's a dozen or more reasons all conspiring together as to why it's unrealistic.

I mean, it's easier to ask if there is any part of that concept that would be plausible. I can't think of even a single significant element of it which would conceptually work.
  
It seems like all the other stuff hinges on how easy it is to get a virus to mutate.
  
It doesn't. If the virus guaranteed you a new mutation every time you injected it into a bat, that still doesn't have any impact on the likelihood that it'll transfer to humans, or transfer human to human, or make it easier to source animals and human subjects, or make the scientific knowledge/equipment to actually track your progress any easier.

If you aren't able to correctly source human subjects, animal subjects, the right kinds of viruses, if you don't have the medical equipment and scientific knowledge to engage in these activities with good tracking and if you aren't correctly maintaining your enterprise, you aren't likely to develop anything even with a high mutation rate.

The argument you're making now is that you could make a nuclear bomb on the cheap if you just dug up enough uranium and strapped it to sacks of gunpowder enough times. And then when faced with the reasons why not, you're basically saying, "So you need more uranium. Got it."

There's a reason the us spent $400M on biological warfare research during WWII. There's a reason the soviets were collecting existing diseases and duplicating them rather than trying to create novel diseases. Making new diseases on command is very hard. There's a lot of moving parts. It's very unreliable for lots of reasons.

Again, and I can't stress this enough, what you're saying is absolutely absurd. There's no evidence it could be done, there's lots of evidence it couldn't be done.
  
By the way, radical thinking here;
Why not just make an already proven human-to-human virus more deadly and pandemic-like? That would solve the animal-to-human problem.
Also why not genetically engineer a virus instead, based on the most pandemic-like ones that exist? This part is so so oversimplified, I realize that much, but why copy nature and rely on RNG to get what you want instead of just...making and testing it?
There’s certainly more efficient ways than what E7 is saying, and more efficient starting points, why use the less efficient ones? Even if it moves at a snail’s pace due to funding and subjects, it’s gonna happen eventually, right? And while COVID is certainly scarily successful at evading a doctor’s visit because it’s not serious enough for the majority of people, there’s still some more efficient symptom systems out there, correct?
  
Right, this is what the Soviets did to prepare bioweapons. They found existing diseases in their part of the world, sent peace workers/doctors to help fight the disease and brought back samples. Then they used bird eggs to incubate large quantities of those samples for potential bioweapons to create mass spread.

Which is totally plausible. If this were a measles outbreak, there would be a lot more talk about was it intentional, was it manmade, was it an attack?

But it's a novel virus, nobody has a cure and it's hurting everybody indiscriminately. The process for making a novel virus for a bioweapon isn't cheap or easy, the process for spreading it in this case doesn't make any sense, there's no motivation from any country to do this, there's nobody taking credit for it, and it's completely consistent with the way other novel viruses have emerged in the past.
  
I don't believe that COVID19 was man-made, nor am I trying to argue that it was. However, I would like to contest the 'nobody has a motive' thing. The world was experiencing one huge economic bubble, and making a bubble pop when you want it to is certainly something incredibly rich people can capitalize on. This made the bubble pop. That's motive. This doesn't change all the other absurd notions one would have to accept to believe this was a coordinated effort, but still, the motive is plausible.
  
It doesn't. If the virus guaranteed you a new mutation every time you injected it into a bat, that still doesn't have any impact on the likelihood that it'll transfer to humans, or transfer human to human, or make it easier to source animals and human subjects, or make the scientific knowledge/equipment to actually track your progress any easier.


I feel like I'm still missing something here. I understand that most mutations are harmful to the virus because it's essentially an error in the replication process but that seems to be the only way it could be transferred. If it takes 10 tries to get the desired mutation vs. 1000 tries then it's going to require more or less resources to get results. Of course, the skill and knowledge involved is the same and I don't think that it's comparable to the sophistication of nuclear weapons. That's engineering and nuclear physics vs basic virology. Not really making an argument; just trying to understand. Since the start I've been leaning heavily against this idea, just getting a better understanding of why it's as ridiculous as you say.
  
In the nuclear bomb analogy, going from 10 pounds of uranium to 1000 pounds of uranium still doesn't get you a bomb. Maybe it changes your odds from .00000001% to .000001%.

Creating a bioweapon absolutely is engineering - we call it "genetic engineering."

I suppose if you want, you can build a bridge by randomly dumping stone and timber into a ravine, and hoping eventually you get something stable. But there's so many good bridge designs out there - you'd just take a known bridge design and adapt it for your needs. And in this analogy, nature is already randomly building WAY more bridges than you have the money to do yourself.

Also again, please understand that the first couple confirmed cases of COVID-19 were not even an effective bioweapon!

In the proposed scenario, a hypothetical enemy spent a shit ton of money to release a pretty run-of-the-mill disease on people (low R and not very dangerous), and then was happily surprised to see that it randomly acquired a favorable novel mutation once it was already in the wild, despite having a lower mutation rate than even the flu.

If you wanted to make a supervirus you wouldn't start with a coronavirus. You wouldn't start with an animal virus. You wouldn't randomly throw shit at the wall to see what sticks. You wouldn't release it when it was still pretty sucky. You wouldn't deploy it when you don't have a treatment ready. No part of this makes sense.
  
As I said before, the scenario I'm describing is about mimicking the way a virus spreads naturally from animals to people by artificial selection; not genetic engineering; random mutation vs. directly adjusting genes. To me that seems like it would be easy to do if the rate of mutation is high enough to give a realistic chance of a nasty mutation that actually spreads through human and animal populations.

Also, I don't think creating a deadly virus may be as effective a strategy as creating one that requires massive quarantines thus tilting the global economy in favor of nations that can effectively employ totalitarian lockdowns on their populations.

So far, the numbers I gathered based on mutation rates in normal viruses would require millions of people eating infected animals over 5 decades to a century; which means there are other likely factors to the spread of corona viruses that I don't have yet. I'm trying to figure out what other factors are involved in the spread besides random mutations and people eating raw animals.
  
Let's see if an analogy will help.

You have an 8k zip file which unpacks into a picture of a hyena.

Your task is to change some of the bits to produce a new zip file which will
a) unpack correctly
b) produce a picture of a different animal
c) be of a notably dangerous animal.

The mutation rate argument is effectively claiming that by changing more bits at a time, this task becomes easier. What we are saying is that it might help with part b, but not with parts a or c.
  
I get the analogies but I don't see how you would require the same staff and resources if the mutation rate offers a high probability of success. The number of animals and people needed is proportional to how often the virus mutates a useful adaptation for cross-species infection.

Quick Edit: The analogies are describing factors that make the task at hand ridiculously difficult whereas the factors I've been given for the current scenario all seem correlated to the mutation rate of the virus.
  
A higher mutation rate only means it’s going to go by faster. That doesn’t mean that the success rate(which is kinda abysmal) is any higher; with a guaranteed mutation chance, it’s just the removal of a factor. It doesn’t mean you can be any less diligent in monitoring it.
  
Cuomo just shut down all non-essential construction. I'm a hell of a lot more anxious about my job now. It's good, and necessary, that he did, but still.
  
Wyyca21 said:
A higher mutation rate only means it’s going to go by faster. That doesn’t mean that the success rate(which is kinda abysmal) is any higher; with a guaranteed mutation chance, it’s just the removal of a factor. It doesn’t mean you can be any less diligent in monitoring it.

The success rate must go up if you get more mutations. If 1/100 is a mutated virus and if 1/100 mutations is a desired trait then more mutations more frequently means it's easier to guarantee success.

I'm missing something, why wouldn't the success rate go up with more mutations? Or is it that more mutations in general don't equal more useful mutations for some reason?

Edit: I just thought of something, is it because more frequent mutations can cause the virus to die out faster than it can replicate?
  
Viruses mutate like crazy, the step that is really hard to accomplish is to make it transmissible across species. Think about the millions of people in unsafe wet markets, with millions of definitely sick animals, and bush markets with wild diseases compared to the number of novel viruses we actually have.

Not even ebola or swine or bird flu fit here since those strains of influenza/haemorrhagic fever were already transmissible across species, they just mutated in a novel fashion or came back. The last time this happened was SARS.

Crossing the species barrier is very difficult.
  
I get that. A virus requires very specialized rare mutations to be transferred between species. That's the main reason it's not possible to create one using artificial selection.
  
E7 said:
I get the analogies but I don't see how you would require the same staff and resources if the mutation rate offers a high probability of success. The number of animals and people needed is proportional to how often the virus mutates a useful adaptation for cross-species infection.
Because a higher mutation rate does not equal a higher probability of success. The rate of mutation is not inherently related to your odds of success for many, many, many, reasons.

Using the method you outlined, how would you even know if the virus WAS mutating? Or when your mutation was successful? You're just feeding virus-infected animals to people. Mutations take generations to become adaptations. How would you know which strand is getting closer to what you want? How would you know that the viruses you pull out of your sample are the correct, mutated version and not some other version? Viruses in the body of the host are not uniform, it's not like you can just whip up a blood sample and guarantee you're passing the right thing on.

This is extremely complicated stuff. You couldn't just eat enough bats with a few people and eventually you have a bioweapon. It's not inevitable. It's not even necessarily likely. It would definitely require tons of resources.

Moreover, a higher mutation rate DOESN'T necessarily offer a higher probability of success independent of method.

Consider:

You have a virus that mutates every generation, but 19 of 20 mutations are not viable. You a 73% chance of getting a viable mutation in the first five generations.

You also have a virus that mutates once every 5 generations, but only 5 of 20 mutations are not viable. You have a 75% chance of getting a viable mutation in the same time period.

Even though the second virus mutates slower, you are more likely to have success. The rate of mutation is not the only factor in success. When you broaden this out to all the factors that play a role, you see that simple rate of mutation is not relevant compared to the significance of all the other factors. You could ramp up mutation rate a million-fold, it doesn't mean you're increasing your odds. In fact, you may be decreasing your odds, depending on other factors.

Virology is extremely complicated. You can increase the number of generations but decrease your likelihood of success with other factors, such as how you handle the virus, its hosts, how you infect/pass the virus, how you monitor it, how you treat/test for it, how you store it, what kind of virus it is, the conditions under which you are attempting to mutate it. This is not a problem where simply increasing the number of generations or mutations guarantees an increase in your rate of success.

Or, to use the bridge analogy from earlier: you could try to build a bridge by chucking rocks into the pond. You could chuck thousands more rocks into the pond per day, but if they're all pebbles, you're actually decreasing your chances of building a bridge.
  
Monitoring the mutations doesn't seem too hard. Couldn't you take a sample from the infected and look at it with an electron microscope?

I keep seeing that "it's complicated" by "other factors". I'm not a fan of ambiguous answers alluding to something else. Considering your example, the rate of viable mutations is key.

Now that I've specified that, I'm going to recap on why a manmade scenario won't work: The rate of viable mutations is too low for artificial selection techniques and/or a high rate of non-viable mutations will outweigh reproduction.
  
E7 said:
Monitoring the mutations doesn't seem too hard. Couldn't you take a sample from the infected and look at it with an electron microscope?

Nope.
  
I feel like you’d have to sequence the entire genome and then compare it to the previous iteration to see what, if anything, changed.
It’s like find the difference, but with hundreds/thousands of letters instead of pictures and with no number of “alright, I’m done!” And then there’s the actual function of said mutation, if it actually does anything other than kill it or nothing.
  
E7 said:
Monitoring the mutations doesn't seem too hard. Couldn't you take a sample from the infected and look at it with an electron microscope?
Take two identical cars. Have somebody replace a valve inside of one engine. Then look at them through binoculars. Can you spot the difference?Looking at something is not the equivalent to understanding it.

E7 said:
I keep seeing that "it's complicated" by "other factors". I'm not a fan of ambiguous answers alluding to something else. Considering your example, the rate of viable mutations is key.
I don't think I'm being ambiguous. I posted like 8,000 words explaining in great detail some of the significant issues you'd face. Yes, the rate of viable mutations is a part of it. So is the long list of other factors mentioned.

E7 said:
Now that I've specified that, I'm going to recap on why a manmade scenario won't work: The rate of viable mutations is too low for artificial selection techniques and/or a high rate of non-viable mutations will outweigh reproduction.
You could get a viable new mutation every single day, if you're accidentally just feeding it to people with transferable antibodies, you'd never know. If you're putting them into bats that have transferable antibodies, you'd never know. If you didn't get it in your viral sample, you'd never know. If the virus couldn't infect the stomach lining but could infect other parts of the body, you'd never know. If the virus couldn't survive because of your breeding conditions, you'd never know you killed it off. If the virus can't survive long enough to infect humans because your conditions have too many other viruses, you'd never know. Some viruses mutate to target other viruses, so having a big batch of thousands of mutating viruses in the same host population could prevent any viable mutations from reproducing enough to be noticeable in your experiments.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of reasons this scenario is implausible without immense resourcing. Only a few of those reasons are related to the mutation rate or viable mutation rate of viruses.

There's hundreds of reasons the method you outlined is extremely unlikely to work even if you had a viral mutation guarantee. You'd still fail to produce a bioweapon in the vast majority of cases. It isn't dependent on the virus not mutating enough or not mutating the right way.
  
...so in a really, super condensed nutshell that’s easily digestible and hits points without sounding like “you’re an idiot if you think this’ll actually work”:
“ The rate of viable mutations is too low for artificial selection techniques and/or a high rate of non-viable mutations will outweigh reproduction. “ and also you have to keep the virus alive and monitor all of the genotypes individually with the precision of a laser point or smaller. And you’ll still have no idea what the phenotype is,
let alone if all the phenotypes are actually okay for infecting humans without immediately dying,
let alone making it an actually serious pandemic.

For argument’s sake, let’s say we had a guaranteed chance of getting a viable mutation every single generation. Why would this still not work? Because so far, it seems like you’ve focused on those two things quite a bit more than every other factor. Why isn’t it just dependent on a viable virus?
I know we’re sounding like idiots over here.
  
Forum > Touchy Subjects > The plausability of COVID19 being man-made