Since Covid-19 emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan three eventful years ago there have been two leading hypotheses on the virus’s origin.
The predominant theory suggests Covid-19 emerged through close contact between humans and animals in Wuhan’s wet market. The second suggests it was the result of an accidental leak from a lab in the city of nine million people.
Quickly dismissed by some as conspiracy theory fodder, the lab leak hypothesis took a back seat – attractive only to some curious scientists, or those with perhaps a heightened interest in science fiction or a disposition to believing in secret plots and cover-ups.
Then in late February the US Department of Energy stated that its current belief was that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid, was most likely leaked from a lab in China, followed by a public statement of support for this theory from the FBI.
Neither agency provided fresh evidence to support their shift in opinion. Many scientists point out there is no evidence that Covid leaked from a lab, and other US government agencies have said they believe a natural jump from animal to human is the more likely explanation.
This week host Molly Blackall and Science Writer Stuart Ritchie delve into what the current science tells us about where Covid might actually have come from, with the help of guests Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist, and Jinghan Zeng, an expert on China and international relations.
Could it be possible that the lab leak theory was too quickly dismissed in favour of the prevailing animal market consensus? And if so, what does it tell us about how we study viruses in labs?
You can also subscribe to The i Podcast, and get a new episode every Wednesday, bringing you insight into and analysis of the biggest stories from the UK and beyond. Every week, journalists from i’s newsroom will take you behind the headlines of our exclusive reports and in-depth features.
i is for people with open minds – and this is the podcast to help you expand your horizons.
Our commitment to you is politics without the spin. News coverage without an axe to grind. Lively opinion, so you hear different sides of the argument. Whether it’s online, on the newsstand, or in this podcast, we are committed to bringing you trusted, non-partisan news.