Did COVID-19 come from space? | Daily News


 

Did COVID-19 come from space?

Famous Sri Lankan astronomer’s theory of the origin of coronavirus

Following is an interview with Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe (Hon. DSc (Ruhuna), Adjunct Professor, Ruhuna University and Director of Centre for Astrobiology in Sri Lanka, on his views of how COVID-19 originated.

Q. The recent outbreak of a new coronavirus (nCoV-2019) affecting thousands of people in China with many deaths and now slowly spreading around the world, even to Sri Lanka, appears a mystery. Could this be linked to your theory of panspermia that viruses and bacteria come from space?


Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe

A. Yes, I think so. Many different lines of evidence for the theory of panspermia have grown in recent years to the point of absolute certainty, in my view. First, let me explain the basics of the theory of panspermia. This theory asserts that life did not start on Earth but came in the form of bacteria and viruses from the wider universe in comets. It is the assembly of genetic components in the form of bacteria and viruses that gave rise to all life forms – plants and animals that we have on Earth today.

This process started on the Earth shortly after the planet itself had formed about 4.2 billion years ago. Last year the signs of the oldest bacteria in rocks of this age were discovered, and at precisely this time, we also know that our planet was being severely bombarded by comets. So, there is strong proof from the very beginning of the Earth’s history as a planet that this is what really happened. Bacteria carried by comets contain within them the blueprint for all possible life in the universe. They can get assembled into life forms like pieces of a jigsaw coming together and this happened throughout the 4.2 billion year-long history of our planet.

Q. So this theory then makes the old idea of life starting in a primordial soup on the Earth obsolete?

A. Yes, there was never any evidence for spontaneous generation. It was accepted as a necessity but without any proof. It is also highly significant that despite over 50 years of experiments to demonstrate spontaneous generation that were carried out in many high-tech laboratories there is no evidence that this could ever happen on Earth.

Q. How do microorganisms from comets enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and how do they survive?

A. Whenever comets approach the Sun, their long dust tails carry bacteria and viruses into space. When the Earth crosses the debris tail of a comet, some of the biological particles can enter the Earth. Some of this debris is burnt, but not all. A fraction can travel through the atmosphere and remain live. Recent studies have shown that as many as 20 to 200 million bacteria of extraterrestrial origin falls on every square metre of the Earth, every single day.

Q. Have earth-bound microbes been able to survive in space?

A. In the last three decades, a large number of experiments have shown that bacteria and viruses can certainly survive in space and endure the harshest imaginable space conditions. Not only microorganisms, but also small milimetre-sized animals called ‘tardigrades’ or ‘water bears’ that are present everywhere on the Earth have also been shown to survive in space conditions. In 2007 when tardigrades were taken to the International Space Station, they were found to survive in the total vacuum for many weeks.

Q. If microscopic life can survive in space, what does that imply about how evolution might be affected on Earth?

A. If microscopic life can survive in space it means that such life, including bacteria and viruses, can be transported safely across vast astronomical distances. Therefore we are not an isolated living system here on the Earth, but all life on Earth must be connected to life that exists on a cosmic scale. According to this point of view, the whole of life’s evolution on Earth involved the addition of new genetic programmes that came as viruses from widely separated parts of the universe and became incorporated into evolving lines on the Earth.

Q. Could this have caused ancient epidemics or modern epidemics?

A. Yes, exactly so. The arrival of new bacteria and viruses would aid evolution which is the positive side of the story, but also occasionally it could lead to epidemics and pandemics of disease. This is clearly to be seen in the history of epidemic diseases on the Earth. Devastating pandemics of disease can be seen to descend suddenly and disappear equally suddenly.

Q. Can mainstream science explain why some diseases suddenly appear on Earth, cause massive death, disappear for centuries, and then reappear again?

A. No it cannot explain this strange behaviour. The sudden appearance of major epidemics – say for instance, smallpox – and the long periods of absence, followed again by reappearance perhaps after centuries is very difficult to explain in terms of any Earth-bound theory. Where on Earth does virus reside during the long periods of remission? It is easy to understand this in terms of the comet theory because comets are periodic in their appearance, and periods of comets can range from a few years to hundreds and thousands of years.

Q. What is the strongest evidence for comets bringing disease?

A. We know that on August 27,1918, a major epidemic of influenza (flu) broke out in Boston, USA, and on the very same day it also broke out in Bombay (Mumbai). This was before air travel, so people could not have transferred the illness in a day. It took many months for people to travel between the US and India in 1918.A new virus clearly fell through the atmosphere in locations separated by tens of thousands of kilometres. The virus or the trigger for the new influenza virus clearly came from outside the Earth and just happened to fall first in Boston and Bombay. It caused over 20 million deaths worldwide.

The conventional explanation is that an Earth-bound flu virus suddenly changed genetically at the same time and in the same way in the two places; and then spread by person-to-person infection. This does not fit the patterns of spread that were actually seen.

Q. Do you think the new corona virus also came from space?

A. Yes I do. I find it hard to find any other explanation that can fit all the facts. The information from China is not easy to decipher fully but it is clear that a virus belonging to the corona family of viruses suddenly began to cause disease (pneumonia) and some deaths from early December. I have a collaborator, Dr. Qu from the Centre for Disease Control in China who has given me the latest data, and I cannot understand what is happening unless there was a fall out of this virus from space. The fact that coronaviruses are present in bats, snakes and other animals suggested a link with animals – a transfer from animals to humans. But this story does not stand up when carefully examined. The most likely explanation in my view, is that a new infective agent external to Earth entered the stratosphere and a clump of this material fell over the Himalayas and dispersed before it hit ground, became the nuclei of raindrops and mist and was blown by the Westerlies (West to East winds) over the desert to settle in the Chinese mainland. Settling through the atmosphere happened in a clumpy way and this is seen in the distribution over China. If a link with animals can be justified, we need to understand why it manifested so suddenly, unless the animals (snakes) themselves recently became recipients of a new virus. As of February 1, 2020, well over 8,000 cases of nCoV were confirmed and these are now distributed over a considerable area of the Chinese mainland.

Q. Are there other epidemics of viral diseases that started in the same way in China?

A. Yes indeed. Many recent pandemics of viral diseases, including influenza and SARS, are known to have followed a very similar pattern of behaviour and a number have indeed first appeared in China. Following the first deposition in a small localised region (eg., Wuhan, Hubei province, China) particles that have already become dispersed through the troposphere will fall to ground in a higgledy-piggledy manner, and this process could be extended over a typical timescale of one to two years until the injected infective agent would be fully drained from the atmosphere. This accords well with many new strains of viruses including influenza that have appeared in recent years. In the context of the new coronavirus, subsequent cases outside China that have appeared so far appear to be confined to persons travelling from the infected provinces of China. There appears to be little or no evidence of person-to-person transmission except in instances of close contact.

(Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe (Hon. DSc (Ruhuna), He is the Adjunct Professor Ruhuna University and Director of Centre for Astrobiology in Sri Lanka, Hon. Professor and Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka, and Honorary Professor at Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Sri Lanka.)


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