Monkeypox Mutations: Natural Adaptation Or Lab Created?
Has The Virus Been Weaponized?
Questions beget answers, which beget more questions. Such is the nature of all science.
A comment from one of my readers captures this reality quite well as it applies to the ongoing “non-endemic” monkeypox outbreak:
Right -- maybe handfuls leaked out -- now we're somehow getting to a thousand outside the endemic region. Thats the question that needs to be asked (not saying you're not doing that, just emphasizing) -- what changed now?
“What changed” is the fundamental question that must be asked when comparing the rates of spread in Europe vs the rates of spread in West Africa. What changed to make the European outbreak so much more aggressive?
Africa Has Had More Or Less Constant Monkeypox Since 2017
West Africa has had what amounts to a low-level ongoing outbreak of monkeypox since 2017, when cases began cropping up in Nigeria.
An outbreak occurred in Nigeria from 2017 to 2019, with cases still being reported in 2021. In addition to Nigeria, outbreaks have also been reported in nine other countries in central and western Africa since 1970. In 2020, over 6200 suspected cases were reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sporadic outbreaks among humans have occurred in other countries such as Cameroon or the Central African Republic.
As the case totals reported by WHO recently indicate, the Nigerian outbreak is extremely mild, with only a handful of cases arising since the beginning of 2022.
The contrast with the European totals is dramatic, as any one of the countries where the cases are concentrated has more cases than all of Africa outside the DRC.
The question “what changed?” is indeed a good question to ask, because there is no doubt that monkeypox has changed significantly in its journey to Europe.
Is Monkeypox Endemic In Europe?
That monkeypox in Europe is significantly different than in Africa is confirmed by genomic sequencing. As University of Edinburgh researchers Áine O’Toole and Andrew Rambaut detail in preliminary analysis published online, the viral strain in Europe has far more mutations than expected, given the historical pace of mutation and evolution in the virus.
The first MPXV genome sequences from monkeypox cases in 2022 (Isidro et al. 2022; Selhorst et al. 2022) showed, phylogenetically, that these viruses had descended from a clade sampled in 2017-2019 from cases diagnosed in Singapore, Israel, Nigeria and the UK. Comparing 2022 genomes from Portugal, Belgium, USA, Australia, and Germany (see Table 1) with the closest earlier genomes (denoted UK_P2 and UK_P3), identified 47 shared single nucleotide differences (Figure 1).
47 mutations in a 3-4 year interval is an astronomical number of mutations, given the current projected rate of mutation at 1-2 nucleotide substitutions per year. Somehow, the European strain managed to accumulate 6-7 times the expected number of mutations since the strain was last seen in 2019.
Rambaut and O’Toole believe the majority of these mutations are attributable to the actions of a family of human enzymes, the APOBEC3 family.
However, 42 out of 47 of these nucleotide changes are of a particular type, a dinucleotide change from
TTor its reverse complement
AA. This specific mutation is characteristic of the action of the APOBEC3 family of deaminases. These act on single stranded DNA to deaminate cytosine to uracil causing a
Amutation in the other strand when it is synthesised. Most human APOBEC3 molecules have a strong bias towards deaminating 5’
TCdinucleotides , with the exception being APOBEC3G which prefers 5’
CCdinucleotides (Yu et al. 2004).
According to their most recent update, this points to sustained human-to-human transmission.
If these APOBEC3 edits are specifically indicative of replication in humans as opposed to another host species then this would confirm this entire clade to be representative of the emergence of a human epidemic by 2017.
However, this genetic divergence leaves us with the same epidemiological conundrum: where has this sustained human-to-human transmission been taking place?
West Africa—the region where the virus is considered endemic—is an unlikely place given the data we have to date. If the human-to-human transmission were occurring there, we would see far more cases in Africa than we do.
Researchers appear to share my skepticism that this strain of monkeypox has been circulating in West Africa.
At the University of Leuven in Belgium, virology professor Marc Van Ranst told NBC News that his laboratory’s sequencing revealed genetic mutations of the virus that were “limited” and that “none of them are smoking guns.
“Everybody is interested in more complete genomes to get an idea about quite an important question: How long have these viruses been circulation, under the radar?” Van Ranst said. “I think nobody believes this jumped out of Africa a couple of weeks ago.”
If the virus didn’t “jump out” of Africa within the past few weeks, then it has been circulating somewhere else since approximately 2017. If West Africa is excluded, then we must consider monkeypox to now be endemic in Europe, where it has been circulating undetected since the “exported” cases in the UK from the Nigerian 2017 outbreak.
Heymann supported the theory that the disease may have been present in some populations for several years outside the 11 Central and West Africa countries where the virus has become endemic. Cases may be circulating stealthily among people outside the global gay community, he suggested.
An Unsatisfactory Answer
Yet this explanation for the divergence of monkeypox strains is unsatisfying to say the least.
While it is feasible that a few cases per year could be mistaken for an STD such as syphilis, the greater number of cases the less likely that is, and the more likely that monkeypox is revealed. Given the hypervigilence of the Pandemic Era, a “hidden” outbreak of a disease as visually distinctive as monkeypox seems particularly implausible.
However, it is difficult if not impossible to explain the dramatic evolutionary shifts that apparently have occurred in the virus without sustained human-to-human transmission taking place largely unnoticed since 2017.
A “hidden” outbreak in Europe of monkeypox is difficult to accept, yet within nature the existing data is even more difficult to explain otherwise.
Unless, of course, the evolutionary shift did not occur within nature. Which compels us to consider the question: is this a “weaponized” strain of monkeypox?
Is It A Bioweapon?
The corporate media “fact checkers” have naturally pronounced the idea of a weaponized strain of monkeypox to be ludicrous, declaring the suppositions of some that it is to be completely false, without merit, and, naturally, “without evidence”.
However, the claim is completely false and no such evidence has been found that the monkeypox virus, the virus that causes monkeypox, is being used by governments to cause disease. The disease had earlier existed and has erupted once again.
Lead Stories issued a “fact check” that was equally dismissive of a bioweapons hypothesis.
Are governments waging biological war via monkeypox? No, that's not true: There's zero evidence monkeypox virus, the virus that causes monkeypox, is being used by governments to cause disease. Monkeypox was first identified in humans in 1970
Yet even without confirming a bioweapons hypothesis, it is easy to see the logical flaw in the argument here. Mere pre-existence of the pathogen in nature does not preclude weaponization—such pre-existence might even be considered a pre-requisite for weaponization.
Smallpox, monkeypox’ more infamous cousin, also pre-exists in nature, and yet Soviet Russia’s efforts to weaponize the virus have been so widely documented as to be accepted reality.
The anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks post-9/11 was a “vaccine challenge” strain of the anthrax bacillus which already exists in nature.
Moreover, in 2002 the monkeypox genome was the subject of a multinational mapping project headed up by the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR in Russia. The VECTOR lab was formerly Soviet Russia’s premier bioweapons research facility, and, at the time of the genome mapping research, was receiving considerable funding through the International Science and Technology Center, a centerpiece of the United States’ Nunn-Lugar efforts at “threat reduction”.
Readers will recall my mentioning of monkeypox earlier this year in detailing the extent of Russia’s engagement in Nunn-Lugar “threat reduction” programs.
What kind of projects did the ISTC underwrite in Russia? All kinds, including research involving variola (smallpox), other orthopoxvirus (cowpox virus), and avian influenza, as the completed projects of just one Russian research facility, the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR, illustrate.
The mapping of the monkeypox virus genome was a collaborative work involving the VECTOR lab, the CDC, and Fort Detrick.
Fort Detrick, of course, is officially known as the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and is the United States’ premier center for “defensive” bioweapons research—or, to use the current argot, “biological threat reduction.”
Additionally, fears of monkeypox weaponization have been voiced for decades, with some even alleging that Soviet Russia attempted weaponization during the 1980s, and that Russia today may even be continuing those efforts.
In addition, the Russian biowarfare experts are known to have worked with the virus in the Soviet Union's biological weapons program.
The Soviets decided they did not want to work with smallpox by the late 1980's "and there was significant discussion of the possible use of monkeypox as a biological weapon instead of smallpox," Ken Alibek, who was former deputy chief of the Soviet biological weapons program and now resides in the U.S., told UPI.
Both smallpox and monkeypox were the subject of a biological warfare paper published in 2005 in Proceedings (Baylor University Medical Center).
There is no shortage of irony in these fears being expressed at the same time AMRIID and VECTOR were partnering on mapping the monkeypox genome—yet both are documented facts.
Not to be left out, the Wuhan Institute of Virology—the site of considerable research into both bat and human coronaviruses, including controversial and largely unethical gain-of-function experiments funded in part by Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases—recently published a paper on recombinant DNA technologies involving the monkeypox genome, which, as is detailed in Modern Discontent, arguably yet another gain-of-function experiment.
The notion there is no evidence that monkeypox is a bioweapon is plainly refuted by these multiple and decades-old evidences that acknowledged bioweapons facilities have scrutinized monkeypox in some detail, and potentially from a bioweapons perspective.
Evidence that monkeypox can be weaponized, however, is a far cry from evidence that monkeypox has been weaponized. Evidence of theory is never evidence of reality. This is where the alternative media sites such as NWO Report, which support a bioweapons origin for monkeypox in Europe, frequently fall short.
In NWO Report’s treatment of a bioweapons hypothesis, they immediately make the leap of logic that the extraordinary number of mutations in the European strain of monkeypox is proof of laboratory creation:
The scientific article that I just quoted goes on to speculate about how so many mutations could have possibly occurred naturally.
Of course the truth is that they probably didn’t occur naturally.
Unfortunately for their argument, major viral leaps in evolution are documented history—we need only consider the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919 to realize that.
NWO Report is also guilty of a major factual error in conflating cases in Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo Basin clade in all probability) with the far fewer and far less virulent cases in Nigeria (West African clade), and ignoring the genomic evidence already presented associating the European outbreak with the West African clade.
Of course monkeypox has been spreading in central Africa for quite some time now.
So far this year, there have been 1,284 confirmed cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, and 58 of those cases have died…
Additionally, most of the DRC cases are not confirmed, per the WHO.
Separately, Planet Today has made the allegation that an “unnamed source” within the European Centers for Disease Control claimed that analysis of the monkeypox genome sourced it to a lab strain studied at a US funded biolab in Ukraine.
Independent investigator Dr. Benjamin Braddock claims that an unnamed source at the ECDC told him that preliminary analysis of the monkeypox strain currently doing the rounds found the virus came from a lab and may be related to the U.S’s biological research in Ukraine.
Given the extent to which un-named and anonymous sources have figured in corporate media’s many journalistic sins over the years, the reliance within alt-media on such unaccountable sources is immediately suspicious all on its own.
Additionally, as Newsweek has reported in debunking that particular claim, it is flatly contradicted by the Rambaut and O’Toole research identifying a possible evolutionary pathway for human-to-human transmission.
Robertson pointed to research submitted to the viral genomic discussion forum Virological.org earlier this month by several Portuguese researchers who stated that the current outbreak virus "belongs to the West African clade and is most closely related to viruses associated with the exportation of monkeypox virus from Nigeria to several countries in 2018 and 2019, namely the United Kingdom, Israel and Singapore."
Further undercutting this “lab leak” hypothesis for monkeypox is the fact that Ukraine has so far not reported any cases. A primary data point for the lab leak hypothesis for SARS-CoV-2 is the fact that the initial outbreak took place literally in the same city as China’s premier research facilities working on coronaviruses, yet that similar data point does not exist for monkeypox.
Thus, while monkeypox unquestionably may be weaponized, and while research into its bioweapons potential may have occurred in the past, there is as of yet no good evidence that the current strain of monkeypox circulating in Europe is a weaponized strain. Indeed, the best “evidence” for a bioweapons hypothesis regarding monkeypox is the challenge of accepting a premise of “hidden” human-to-human transmission, which is a necessary predicate of the Rambaut and O’Toole disease model—incredulity at one origin model can hardly be claimed as strong evidence for another origin model.
Yet we must remember that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. While there is as yet no solid evidence of a laboratory origin for the European strain of monkeypox, such an origin is far from impossible and cannot be affirmatively excluded at this time.
Rather, the extant data shows greater support for “hidden” transmission via the Rambaut and O’Toole disease model, and almost no support for a laboratory origin. Until solid evidence emerges to contradict their thesis, theirs is the best case made thus far, as unsatisfying as the explanation might be.
Questions Yet To Be Answered
While the Rambaut and O’Toole research gives us a plausible mechanism for understanding human-to-human transmission of monkeypox, its predicate of a “hidden” epidemic presents us with another seemingly intractable question: how did that epidemic begin?
The 47 nucleotide substitutions they document did not arise in a single viral generation—how did that evolutionary chain begin?
What was the catalyst for this evolutionary shift? Why did it occur now, when monkeypox has been known for decades? Why is the shift focused in Europe and not in the known endemic region for monkeypox in West Africa?
A full understanding of the outbreak within Europe, and the seeming expansion of monkeypox endemic region to include Europe, requires that these questions at some point be answered. Charting the evolution of the virus after it jumped from zoonotic to human pathogen is valuable knowledge, but much more is needed.
While Rambaut and O’Toole have taken large steps to explain what changed within the virus itself, epidemiologically we are still left with variations of the question my reader posed initially: “What changed?”
For now the answer remains an eternally unsatisfying “we do not know.”