On January 31, 2020, an infectious-disease expert at the Scripps Research Translational Institute named Kristian Anderson called Anthony Fauci at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to relay some alarming news. Anderson and his colleagues had been investigating the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and thought it showed signs of having been manipulated in a laboratory. In a later email to Fauci, he wrote, “Some of the features (potentially) look engineered.”
Fauci immediately arranged a conference call for the next day. It included not just Fauci and Anderson, but Fauci’s boss, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, as well as experts in Britain and elsewhere. “It was a very productive back-and-forth conversation where some on the call felt it could possibly be an engineered virus,” Fauci later told USA Today writer Alison Young. It was scary enough if a naturally occurring virus had jumped from animals to humans (as most viral pathogens do). The notion that it might instead be a lab experiment gone awry was deeply ominous.