A Critical Analysis of the Evidence for the SARS-CoV-2 Origin Hypotheses

James C. Alwine, Arturo Casadevall, Lynn W. Enquist, Felicia D. Goodrum, Michael J. Imperial

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


When humans experience a new, devastating viral infection such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), significant challenges arise. How should individuals as well as societies respond to the situation? One of the primary questions concerns the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that infected and was transmitted efficiently among humans, resulting in a pandemic. At first glance, the question appears straightforward to answer. However, the origin of SARS-CoV-2 has been the topic of substantial debate primarily because we do not have access to some relevant data. At least two major hypotheses have been suggested: a natural origin through zoonosis followed by sustained human-to-human spread or the introduction of a natural virus into humans from a laboratory source. Here, we summarize the scientific evidence that informs this debate to provide our fellow scientists and the public with the tools to join the discussion in a constructive and informed manner. Our goal is to dissect the evidence to make it more accessible to those interested in this important problem. The engagement of a broad representation of scientists is critical to ensure that the public and policy-makers can draw on relevant expertise in navigating this controversy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • coronavirus
  • lab leak
  • origin
  • zoonosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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