Friday, 3 July 2020

Malevolent Design News - The Covid-19 Designer Fights Back

Newer variant of COVID-19–causing virus dominates global infections | Los Alamos National Laboratory

If you're a believer in intelligent [sic] design, you'll no doubt be full of admiration for the way your designer created the deadly Covid-19 virus out of a harmless (to humans) virus which normally infects bats.

So you'll probably be delighted to know that he then added a small refinement that made Covid-19 more infective, so it eventually replaced the less infective form.

Researchers, led by Bette Korber of the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM have shown that a minor mutation in the RNA for making the 'spike' proteins, which give then a slightly modified shape, enables the D614G variant to break into human cells more quickly and easily than the original D614 form. This enables the mutant to gain control of the host and deny resources to the D614 form and therefore to make more copies of itself.

The team showed that the mutant form appeared soon after D614 appeared and began to out-compete it in late February. From then on it quickly became the predominant form at all levels, at global, national or local level.

Sadly, the Cell paper in which the team report their work is behind an expensive paywall but the Los Alamos National LAboratory press release explains:

This chart tells the essential story of how the pandemic has shifted over time from orange (the original D type of the virus) to blue (the now-widespread G form, D614G).

Research out today in the journal Cell shows that a specific change in the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus virus genome, previously associated with increased viral transmission and the spread of COVID-19, is more infectious in cell culture. The variant in question, D614G, makes a small but effective change in the virus’s ‘Spike’ protein, which the virus uses to enter human cells.

Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the study, noted, “The D614G variant first came to our attention in early April, as we had observed a strikingly repetitive pattern. All over the world, even when local epidemics had many cases of the original form circulating, soon after the D614G variant was introduced into a region it became the prevalent form.”

Geographic information from samples from the GISAID COVID-19 viral sequence database enabled tracking of this highly recurrent pattern, a shift in the viral population from the original form to the D614G variant. This occurred at every geographic level: country, subcountry, county, and city.

Two independent lines of experimental evidence that support these initial results are included in today’s paper. These additional experiments, led by Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D., at the La Jolla Institute, and by Professor David Montefiori, Ph.D., at Duke University, showed that the D614G change increases the virus’s infectivity in the laboratory. These new experiments, as well as more extensive sequence and clinical data and improved statistical models, are presented in the Cell paper. More in vivo work remains to be done to determine the full implications of the change.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has a low mutation rate overall (much lower than the viruses that cause influenza and HIV-AIDS). The D614G variant appears as part of a set of four linked mutations that appear to have arisen once and then moved together around the world as a consistent set of variations.

“It’s remarkable to me,” commented Will Fischer of Los Alamos, an author on the study, “both that this increase in infectivity was detected by careful observation of sequence data alone, and that our experimental colleagues could confirm it with live virus in such a short time.”

Fortunately, “the clinical data in this paper from Sheffield showed that even though patients with the new G virus carried more copies of the virus than patients infected with D, there wasn’t a corresponding increase in the severity of illness," said Saphire, who leads the Gates Foundation-supported Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium (CoVIC).

Korber noted, “These findings suggest that the newer form of the virus may be even more readily transmitted than the original form – whether or not that conclusion is ultimately confirmed, it highlights the value of what were already good ideas: to wear masks and to maintain social distancing.”

Research partners from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Duke University, and the University of Sheffield initially published work on this analysis on the bioRxiv site in an April 2020 preprint. That work also included observations of COVID-19 patients from Sheffield that suggested an association of the D614G variant with higher viral loads in the upper respiratory tract.

It is possible to track SARS-CoV-2 evolution globally because researchers worldwide are rapidly making their viral sequence data available through the GISAID viral sequence database”, Korber said. Currently tens of thousands of sequences are available through this project, and this enabled Korber and the research team to identify the emergence of the D614G variant.

Perhaps we're fortunate that the intelligent [sic] designer missed a trick here and failed to make the virus more harmful as well as more infectious. But, would an intelligent designer who deliberately created Covid-19 to make people sick, miss such a trick? If it didn't create Covid-19 to make people sick, then it can't be described as intelligent, since that's exactly what it does, and nothing else.

Of course, what we have here is not the work of an intelligence, malevolent or otherwise. What we have is classic evolution in practice. A chance mutation, which seems to have arisen during the initial mutations that cause Covid-19 to arise within the coronavirus family came to predominate in the viral genepool because it could more quickly gain control of the host's body and differentially out-compete the original form in the struggle for resources. In other words, in classic evolutionary biology parlance, it had greater fitness in its environmental niche.

Perhaps intelligent [sic] design proponents should feel pleased that 'evolution' is the only explanation for the Covid-19 virus that doesn't leave their designer god look like a malevolent, genocidal psychopath. But what they would then need to accept is that Covid-19 shows how a mutation can be beneficial (in this case to the virus) and that evolution not only happens but has been seen to have happened in Covid-19.

What a choice for a creationist: either evolution happens and creationist dogma is wrong, or the intelligent [sic] designer is a malevolent, genocidal, psychopath.

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