Only those who regard the laboratories of Nobel Prize winners as holy places and science strongholds generally as temples and not as what they are: the usual places of scientific self-questioning, have had to swallow hard a few times in the past few days when looking at the Twitter network. David Baltimore, American molecular biology icon, was systematically deconstructed in it. The 83-year-old Californian Nobel Prize in Medicine had joined the ongoing debate, richly blessed by conspiracy theories, about the origin of Sars-CoV-2 as a virologist. It was about a certain point in the "spike" protein of the pathogen - the sting -which had already been identified as the decisive activation sequence last year and published in "Molecular Cell" - by the way, by a German group led by Markus Hoffmann and Stefan Pöhlmann from the German Primate Center in Göttingen.

Joachim Müller-Jung

Editor in the features section, responsible for the “Nature and Science” section.

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    Without activation at the site by the enzyme furin, the virus will not multiply.

    On the contrary: The furin cleavage point in the sting makes Sars-CoV-2 a highly infectious pathogen for us.

    That is why ideas and rumors flourished from the beginning about “who” might have constructed this molecular sequence - nature or Chinese corona researchers in their laboratory in Wuhan.

    David Baltimore's speculation had now become public in a post: "When I saw this furin cleavage site with its arginine codons in the virus sequence, I said to my wife that this was irrefutable evidence for the origin of the virus."

    So Baltimore believed the virus was engineered by Chinese researchers. He did not provide any evidence. The furor in the Twitter bubble continued to grow. And just as the report by the official search team of the World Health Organization, which has since been published, was not able to calm the minds, neither could Baltimore's admirers prevent the Nobel Prize winner from being taken over by the conspiracy community. Most recently, the Californian immunologist Kristian Andersen from the Scripps Research Institute, a proven Sars-CoV-2 specialist, tried. He credibly and with all available empirical evidence refuted Baltimore's claim that the furin site could only be a laboratory product.

    Some young researchers may have seen Andersen's public deconstruction of Baltimore as an armed attack by a younger man against a deserving colleague. In reality it was the opposite: it showed science as a process and ultimately even served to protect the laureate from a pseudoscientific horde on the Internet.

    Another pioneer from the industry has been exposed to similar attacks in the past few days: the German-born genetic researcher Rudolf Jaenisch from the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most cited gene and stem cell researchers in the world, has made a contribution to the together with Richard Young "Proceedings" of the American National Academy of Sciences on Sars-CoV-2 published. Topic: the integration of parts of the Sars-CoV-2 genetic information into the human genome. It's easy to imagine what kind of explosives this might contain. Vaccine skeptics repeatedly expressed doubts about the assurance that the mRNA from the Covid-19 vaccines could not get into the cell nucleus and therefore also not into our genome.

    When the Jaenisch group presented the first results on a preprint server months ago, there were outrages: “Laboratory artifacts”, because initially only evidence from cell cultures was available. In fact, so-called Line 1 sequences are found in human cells, in which - presumably from previous virus infections - the information for the enzyme reverse transcriptase is incorporated. In the meantime, Jaenisch and Young have presented corresponding tissue material from clinics: With the "old" reverse transcriptase parts of the virus genome - but not infectious virus particles - can be translated into DNA and incorporated into human genetic material. That would explain why some Covid-19 geneses test positive months later without further infection.

    What this means medically is completely unclear. Apparently, the Sars-CoV-2 snippets are not acutely dangerous. But the growing vocal vaccination skeptic community is of course making more of it, as expected - and not only Jaenisch's colleagues are therefore unhappy about the unwelcome finding in this pandemic phase.