Is SARS manmade?
April 14, 2003 11:56 AM   Subscribe

SARS A Biological Weapon? Now that SARS has been decompiled (sequenced), scientists are starting to suggest that it appears to be manmade, possibly as a bioweapon that escaped from a lab. Via linkfilter.
posted by timbley (45 comments total)
Pretty crappy bioweapon that only has 4% fatality rate.

Unless it was meant to stir up media and public hysteria, in which case mission accomplished.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:59 AM on April 14, 2003

See also the warfilter version of this thread.
posted by Mark Doner at 12:03 PM on April 14, 2003

Well, China has declared it a "grave" problem. Plus, that last link in the post suggests that it may have been a "test" pathogen that was accidentally leaked, and that it's not more aggressive because, basically, it is a beta test of a virus. Kind of like how Windows 2003 isn't spreading that fast...
posted by timbley at 12:03 PM on April 14, 2003

And just as AIDS was supposed to be designed to target black folks (the gays were a pilot test), I assume SARS was built to target the Asians.

Right. What we really need is a bio-weapon that only targets the persons with tinfoil hats.
posted by yhbc at 12:04 PM on April 14, 2003

> "there is no vaccine for this virus, its make-up is unclear, it
> has not been very widespread and the population is not
> immune to it."

If that's enough reason to consider it possibly man-made then the Black Death was possibly man-made, on the same evidence. Now who would have had the technology to create a bacillus in the lab in the fourteenth century? Aha, the Atlanteans. Never trusted those buggers anyhow. Will Rense get this first or will the Weekly World News beat him to it?
posted by jfuller at 12:06 PM on April 14, 2003

Shades of The Stand *shiver*
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:07 PM on April 14, 2003

And here I thought it was a strain of yellow journalism, developed in a newsroom, and deliberately unleashed on the world.
posted by scarabic at 12:07 PM on April 14, 2003

Heh...never saw that Rense site before, but as far as credibility, it's somewhere between Weekly World News/Batboy and...and...some other non-credible site.
posted by davidmsc at 12:13 PM on April 14, 2003

Time Cube
posted by rocketman at 12:15 PM on April 14, 2003

erm, here's 2 less fictional links: who sequenced SARS/the coming test and possible vaccine and the research/findings made available
posted by t r a c y at 12:19 PM on April 14, 2003

yo, rocketman...WTF is that TimeCube thingie? I looked at it, but...can you give us a brief summary?
posted by davidmsc at 12:20 PM on April 14, 2003

Roger that, rocketman.
posted by Mark Doner at 12:24 PM on April 14, 2003

There are entire sections of nucleotides that bear no similarity whatsoever to ANY known viral sequence. While this doesn't conclusively prove that SARS is man-made, it's true that this virus is a menagerie of recognized (and not)viral code...of the likely DNA sequence matches for various segments, you've got HIV (very scary considering the fact that we still can't beat HIV), human coronavirus, bovine coronavirus, various avian infections diseases... all together, it really makes you wonder where this bad stuff came from, man-made or not.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 12:24 PM on April 14, 2003

Hahaha Timecube is legendary. It's basically an insane guy who's very adamant about his belief that there are four simultaneous days occurring at any given time which comprise a "time cube", and that the media, government and academia are suppressing this information and conspiring against him.
posted by Spacelegoman at 12:25 PM on April 14, 2003

Via linkfilter

See also the warfilter version of this thread.

posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:30 PM on April 14, 2003

Clearly this makes the case for liberating Syria.
posted by holycola at 12:37 PM on April 14, 2003

linking to TimeCube is sort of the tinfoil hat version of Pancakes.

you can always tell the TFH sites by the similar web design...very much like the old Heavens Gate site.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:39 PM on April 14, 2003


Man invented word, and calls it god. "The Word World", imposed by the academic institutions, is synonymous with the Matrix's induced "Dream World". Both are most efficient mind enslavers, and humans know not their difference from "The Cubic World", the creation principle of all that exist.

Academic free speech is a damn lie. Try to discuss & debate Nature's Time Cube and your evil teachers will not allow you.

Any questions?
posted by jokeefe at 12:41 PM on April 14, 2003

The purpose of bioweapons is not necessarily to kill, but to attack the supporting infrastructure of a combatant by making people sick and placing unusually large burdens on the medical establishment, stressing the social order, etc, etc.

It's not the primary effect of massive plague, but the secondary effects that can be most useful.

Also, it's difficult to have (or make) a highly infectious *and* highly lethal disease organism. Killing the host is bad for the bug because the host is the bug's method of reproduction. This is why Ebola outbreaks fizzle out.

In the wild, plague organisms tend to evolve toward lower lethality over time in a given population-- a process that starts as soon as you release it.

Note that this doesn't mean it can't happen, but the odds and the environment are against it.
posted by Cerebus at 12:51 PM on April 14, 2003

... all together, it really makes you wonder where this bad stuff came from, man-made or not.

It makes you wonder if you haven't seen this sort of stuff before.

First, BLAST is readily available... just because someone on can dump a bunch of genetic code into the tool doesn't mean that they have the slighest ability to interpret the results.

Second, BLAST is a computer tool for finding matches -- it works best for short sequences. The results get flakier as it strains to find matches for large sequences. It also gives you a measure of overall flakiness -- the "e-value". The smaller the e-value, the more likely the match has some significance beyond random correlations. Look at what happens if you ignore anything with an e-value of more than 0.05 or so (or, better yet 0.005)... basically, you're left with coronaviruses, and not much else. All your wacky HIV and other matches have high e-values and thus are pretty much garbage that doesn't have any real significance.

Kinda like
posted by ptermit at 12:52 PM on April 14, 2003

The Stand had a far better plot tho. (so far, anyhow)
posted by Fupped Duck at 1:00 PM on April 14, 2003

posted by y2karl at 1:01 PM on April 14, 2003

Whoa... kinda harsh there, karl...
posted by JollyWanker at 1:03 PM on April 14, 2003

What we really need is a bio-weapon that only targets the persons with tinfoil hats.

*shakes head, notes odd crinkling noise, shakes head again*
posted by quonsar at 1:06 PM on April 14, 2003

Wow, just like the Stand. If creepy people now start yelling "The man with no face is coming" I'm outta here.
posted by unreason at 1:07 PM on April 14, 2003

The virus, according to academy of medecine member Sergei Kolesnikov, is a cocktail of mumps and measles, whose mix could never appear in nature

Assuming he's right, that's pretty much case closed, right?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 1:27 PM on April 14, 2003

Assuming he's right, that's pretty much case closed, right?

Assuming my grandmother has wheels, she's pretty much a bus.
posted by ptermit at 1:45 PM on April 14, 2003

Assuming my grandmother has wheels, she's pretty much a bus.

heh heh heh. nice one.
posted by Ufez Jones at 2:11 PM on April 14, 2003

This post is really reassuring. Going on the assumption that if it's on it's pretty much guaranteed not to be true, we can therefore safely determine that this virus is not man made, and not a bioweapon.

I'm glad to hear that.
posted by rusty at 2:37 PM on April 14, 2003

Sweet. Captain Trips is here. Hippies to Boulder, badasses to Vegas. Keep Trashy away from the nukes.
posted by Optamystic at 2:47 PM on April 14, 2003

wow, um, ptermit, did you maybe spend some time here?

posted by tss at 2:52 PM on April 14, 2003

If you haven't been there before, make sure that you take with not a pinch but rather a large dump truck of salt. It is a premier conpiracy site, and as such not to be missed.

It is a great place to locate and identify numerous conspiracy theories. It often points to unexplored directions of anxiety, paranoia, racism, and hallucinatory ramblings.

But it is what it is--a very twisted place. I have mostly stopped visiting it because of the rampant anti-semitism (and implicit Holocaust denial) found in many parts of the site. It can be hard to take after a short time.

However, I do find (and other sites like it) to be an instructive slap in the face in case I get too complacent about the news I read elsewhere. Conspiracy theories, UFO experiences, chemtrails, chupacabras, black helicopters and all the rest hint at the deep disturbances of many minds in the world. It can be useful to see how worked up these minds can be and what is creating those disturbances, in order to gauge the disorder of the world.

My two cents.
posted by mooncrow at 2:53 PM on April 14, 2003

I'm just laughing at the fact that the term "TFH site" is now in vogue.

If I were a contractor hired to create a coronavirus with a controlled contagion factor, I'd first attempt to test the delivery system with an easily trackable, but relatively harmless, coronavirus...

'Course, if I had wheels, I'd be a bus.
posted by FormlessOne at 3:51 PM on April 14, 2003

Metafilter: Tinfoil hats and pancake overlords dished up daily
posted by billsaysthis at 4:01 PM on April 14, 2003

Metafilter: Assuming it had wheels, it would be a bus.
posted by Newbornstranger at 5:45 PM on April 14, 2003

There was an earlier pathogen that was found in the lung tissue of a couple victims that they thought caused SARS, but then they found the coronavirus in many more patients. The earlier virus was in the same family as measles and mumps, unlike the common cold-style coronavirus.

If the paper says the Russian scientist claims the virus seems to be a cross between measles and mumps, then that news is not only incorrect, it's about three weeks old.

But then 'coronavirus' doesn't sound scary enough for a TFH site.

Heck, maybe some good will come out of this! Make one vaccine for a coronavirus and it might be a lot easier to make a second one for the common cold! It's about time someone put some money in to curing that nasty.
posted by kfury at 5:59 PM on April 14, 2003

Cerebus made a good comment about the nature of disease. Low rates of mortality with high rates of infection would be an excellent bio-weapon. The only problem is it could come back to the owner.

China has a long history of batteling with population control and using controversial methods to do so.
posted by stbalbach at 6:02 PM on April 14, 2003

posted by bwg at 9:04 PM on April 14, 2003

GROAN. See discussion here.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:30 PM on April 14, 2003

Regarding grandmothers, wheels, and buses, I'll relate the entirely offtopic connection to my alma mater here since it's an interesting story and this thread is about played out anyway.

I don't know if "If my grandmother was a bus, I guess she'd have wheels" is a common phrase anywhere else, but at Swarthmore College it's a jab at current president Al Bloom. When he was still just a linguistics professor, the story goes, Dr. Bloom proffered some sort of research result indicating that because certain Chiniese dialects lack a kind of conditional or subjunctive expression, speakers of those languages had a harder time conceptualizing concepts expressed thusly in languages like English (c.f. Whorf-Sapir or perhaps A.R. Luria). Turns out, allegedly, that the surveys presented to the test subjects were replete with questions that were difficult to conceptualize for speakers of any language, including the famous "If your grandmother were a bus, would she have wheels?" (How this may have affected the results of the study is left out of the story.)

These days, certain philosophy professors will sometimes greet uncommonly esoteric and ambitious "what if?" arguments with something starting off with "well, if my grandmother were a bus..."

Meanwhile, in certain provinces of China, perhaps the residents distract themselves from the terror of SARS, manmade or not, by contemplating the grandmother/bus/wheels problem. Who knows, maybe they've figured it out by now.
posted by tss at 11:51 PM on April 14, 2003

y2karl, WTF?
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:03 AM on April 15, 2003

off topic

tss: I don't know if "If my grandmother was a bus, I guess she'd have wheels" is a common phrase anywhere else.
Yep, Greece (the Greek equivalent anyway). It's so common in fact (in the forms: "if my granma had wheels she would be a scooter", "if my granma had ball bearings she would be a scooter" and also as "if my granma had antennas she'd be a trolley bus") that I immediately assumed that ptermit is/knows Greek.

/off topic
posted by talos at 5:11 AM on April 15, 2003

tss: I'm not from Swarthmore, actually... I picked up the phrase from elsewhere. (And talos, no, I don't know Greek, alas.)

(Off-off topic: Weird... this is the second time in two days that I've encountered the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, and I'm not a linguist or anything close to it.)
posted by ptermit at 6:13 AM on April 15, 2003

Here is a grandmother/bus/wheels version, according to PM Jean Chr├ętien, attributed to Pierre-Elliott Trudeau (RIP, former Canadian PM, for those of you who don't know). Of course, this is a translation of what was actually said in French. It sounds much funnier in the original language, because it's so obviously a twisted literal translation of the English expression.
posted by titboy at 7:39 AM on April 15, 2003

If I were a virus, and I'm not, mind you, nor a bus either, and I had to pick a place to develop and spread, I'd really have to think about my options. I could be formed in a petrie dish in a lab and monitored, prodded, controlled and then frozen. There's not a whole lot of chance for me to get out and do what I, as a virus, am want to do. I could form however in a nice dirty place somewhere in the tropics. A place where it is a common practice for the dense human population to save space by keeping chickens and pigs in the same pen. A place where running water is scarce and people use their own feces for fertilizer and track the poo home on their feet from working in knee deep cesspools to grow their food. There I can grow amongst the chickens as an avian coronavirus, slide on over to the mammalian side in the tight packed chicken/pig pens then make the easy hop to the unsanitary humans. Boy, if I were a virus, which I'm not, I'd pick option two. Option two just happens to describe Guanzhou province, the birthplace of SARS. Still think it came from a lab?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:51 AM on April 15, 2003

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