Researchers have developed a tool that can assess if Coronavirus outbreak has naturally originated or not. The main aim is to find out whether the novel coronavirus mutated from a virus already prevalent in humans or animals or did it originate in a laboratory.
Grunow-Finke assessment tool (GFT or mGFT) as it is called, is developed by Virginia-based Society for Risk Analysis. The mGFT contains 11 criteria for determining if an outbreak is of unnatural origin, including existence of a biological risk.
If the tool reveals a score of less than 30 points, out of 60 possible points, then the outbreak is of natural cause. If a biological agent is released artificially, it is expected to be found in unusually high concentrations in the air, soil and drinking or surface water over a large area.
It assesses if there is presence of a political or terrorist environment from which a biological attack could originate. The tool also checks if the pathogenic organism may be atypical, rare, antiquated, new emerging, with mutations or different origins, genetically edited or created by synthetic biotechnology.
“Unless the question of origin is asked, unnatural outbreaks cannot be identified. Public health training, practice and culture defaults to the assumption that every outbreak is natural in origin and does not routinely include risk assessments for unnatural origins,” said the study published in the journal Risk Analysis.
However, the researchers cautioned that the findings simply flag unusual patterns in an outbreak, but do not prove unnatural origin.