The mysterious Chinese lab some suspect of leaking the COVID-19 virus also conducted research on monkeypox.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology published a study in its scientific journal Virologica Sinica showing its scientists have mapped a part of a monkeypox genome to be used for detecting infections. It described monkeypox, symptoms of which include fever, aches, rashes and lesions all over the body, as a DNA virus with two manifestations, one from West Africa and one from the Congo Basin.
“The latter is more pathogenic and has been reported to infect humans in various parts of the world,” the study said.
Monkeypox, was discovered in 1958 among research monkeys, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The first human case was reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1970s, and most cases since have occurred Africa. Monkeypox cases in the U.S. are extremely rare, and typically have been linked to international travel or imported animals.
In recent days, the number of confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox topped more than 100 over the weekend as the disease has now spread throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. As of Saturday, “92 laboratory confirmed cases, and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox with investigations ongoing, have been reported to WHO from 12 Member States that are not endemic for monkeypox virus,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement.
WHO said the current outbreak is likely a “random event” linked to sexual behavior at two rave parties, one in Spain and the other in Belgium.
The Wuhan lab study said it assembled a genomic fragment of monkeypox because there have never been documented outbreaks in China. This meant there was no viral genomic material available for the standard method of detection, a process called “quantitative polymerase chain reaction,” according to the researchers.
The process used instead by the lab, according to its journal, involved isolating large chromosomal fragments to make what the study described as an “infectious clone” of the virus. The report added a sobering cautionary note about “potential security concerns.”
“… this DNA assembly tool applied in virological research could also raise potential security concerns, especially when the assembled product contains a full set of genetic material that can be recovered into a contagious pathogen,” the study warned.
The study’s authors attempted to allay any fears about a dangerous, manmade version of monkeypox escaping the lab, as some suspect may have been the case with COVID-19. They said their experiment involved assembling only a fragment of the monkeypox genome that is less than a third the size of the real thing.
“This assembly product is fail-safe by virtually eliminating any risk of recovering into an infectious virus while providing multiple … targets for detecting monkeypox or other Orthopoxviruses.”