Understanding how COVID-19 started is more important than we know for the future of humankind. Determining whether the virus came from nature or from a lab will help us to safeguard against the next pandemic. This disease will for ever punctuate modern history. It has led to the deaths of millions, sickened hundreds of millions and affected the lives of almost every person on the planet. We now know that COVID is here to stay.
Genetic engineering expert Dr Alina Chan and renowned science writer Matt Ridley examine the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, using their formidable skills to scrutinise arguments and rigorously analyse the sprawling data. Viral is a fascinating account that takes in pangolins, horseshoe bats, internet sleuths and misleading scientific papers. It details the evidence and investigates hypotheses for the virus origin, chief among them a potential laboratory leak or a natural spillover.
Science has made great strides over the last decades. Chan and Ridley give an insight into the proliferating pathogen research and virus hunting around the world. Whatever the source of the virus, the world needs to adopt new policies and strategies to prevent or mitigate future outbreaks.
Set in the caves and mineshafts, food markets and wildlife smugglers' stores, laboratories and databases of China and elsewhere, Viral is a page-turner that reads like a detective novel and goes deeper into the deepest mystery of the day than any other work.
Dr Alina Chan is a postdoctoral researcher with a background in medical genetics, synthetic biology, and vector engineering. At the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, Dr Chan is currently creating next-generation vectors for human gene therapy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Chan began to investigate problems relevant to finding the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and in parallel spearheaded the development of the COVID-19 CoV Genetics browser for scientists worldwide to rapidly track virus lineages and mutations by locations and date ranges of interest.
Matt Ridley is the author of How Innovation Works, The Rational Optimist, The Evolution of Everything and Genome, among other books on science and economics. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and he has been a columnist for the Telegraph, The Times and the Wall Street Journal. He sits on the science and technology select committee of the House of Lords.
"'Both journalists and armchair detectives interested in the mystery of the coronavirus were discovering Chan as a kind of Holmes to our Watson. She crunched information at twice our speed, zeroing in on small details we'd overlooked, and became a go-to for anyone looking for spin-free explications of the latest science on COVID-19"
– Rowan Jacobsen, Boston Magazine
"Here was an actual scientist at America's biggest gene centre who was explaining why the official story might be wrong"
– Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review