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Statement from Prof Edward Holmes on the SARS-CoV-2 virus

16 April 2020
On the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19
Unfounded speculation on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 has prompted the following statement from Professor Holmes, who was involved in mapping the genome of the virus.
Professor Edward Holmes.

Professor Edward Holmes.

"There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

"Coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2 are commonly found in wildlife species and frequently jump to new hosts. This is also the most likely explanation for the origin of SARS-CoV-2.

"The closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2 is a bat virus named RaTG13, which was kept at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. There is some unfounded speculation that this virus was the origin of SARS-CoV-2. However:

(i) RaTG13 was sampled from a different province of China (Yunnan) to where COVID-19 first appeared; and

(ii) the level of genome sequence divergence between SARS-CoV-2 and RaTG13 is equivalent to an average of 50 years (and at least 20 years) of evolutionary change.

"Hence, SARS-CoV-2 was not derived from RaTG13.

"In addition, we know that viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 are also found in pangolins. This suggests that other wildlife species are likely to carry relatives of SARS-CoV-2.

"In summary, the abundance, diversity and evolution of coronaviruses in wildlife strongly suggests that this virus is of natural origin. However, a greater sampling of animal species in nature, including bats from Hubei province, is needed to resolve the exact origins of SARS-CoV-2."


Professor Edward Holmes is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and a Fellow of the Royal Society in London.

He has published six academic papers this year on the genome and origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

At the University of Sydney he is a member of the Charles Perkins Centre and the Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity. He holds a joint position with the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the Sydney Medical School.

Marcus Strom

Science Media Adviser
Due to the volume of work on SARS-CoV-2 research, Professor Holmes is not available for interview.

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