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Could COVID-19 Have Escaped From a Lab?

The world’s preeminent scientists say a theory from the Broad Institute’s Alina Chan is too wild to be believed. But when the theory is about the possibility of COVID being man-made, is this science or censorship?

In January, as she watched the news about a novel virus spreading out of control in China, Alina Chan braced for a shutdown. The molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT started stockpiling medicine and supplies.

By the time March rolled around and a quarantine seemed imminent, she’d bought hundreds of dollars’ worth of fillets from her favorite fishmonger in Cambridge and packed them into her freezer. Then she began to ramp down her projects in the lab, isolating her experimental cells from their cultures and freezing them in small tubes.

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As prepared as she was for the shutdown, though, she found herself unprepared for the frustration of being frozen out of work. She paced the walls of her tiny apartment feeling bored and useless.

Chan has been a puzzle demon since childhood, which was precisely what she loved about her work—the chance to solve fiendishly difficult problems about how viruses operate and how, through gene therapy, they could be repurposed to help cure devastating genetic diseases.

Staring out her window at the eerily quiet streets of her Inman Square neighborhood, she groaned at the thought that it could be months before she was at it again. Her mind wandered back to 2003, when she was a teenager growing up in Singapore and the first SARS virus, a close relative of this coronavirus, appeared in Asia. It hadn’t been anything like this. That one had been relatively easy to corral. How had this virus come out of nowhere and shut down the planet? Why was it so different? she asked herself.