FACT CHECK: Did Nobel Laureate Tasuku Honjo Say The Coronavirus Was Engineered In A Chinese Lab?

Trevor Schakohl | Legal Reporter

A post shared on Facebook claims Japanese Nobel laureate Dr. Tasuku Honjo said the new coronavirus was engineered in a Chinese laboratory.

Verdict: False

Honjo has not made comments to that effect, and he has called the claim “misinformation” in a statement.

Fact Check:

Honjo, a Kyoto University professor, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2018. He and American researcher James Allison received it “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation,” per the Nobel Prize website.

The Facebook post cites Honjo as allegedly saying the new coronavirus was engineered in a laboratory in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus first emerged in late 2019.

“I know the Chinese labs where the virus was perfected,” Honjo is quoted as saying. “Natural viruses are temperature and climate-sensitive. Corona had affected every nation, irrespective of geography, climate and temperature. Had it been natural, it’s spreading would have been limited to Wuhan like places and climate.”

He also allegedly added that “if it’s not proven even after my death, take away my Nobel prize,” according to the post. (RELATED: Does This Video Show A Tsunami Hitting China During The Coronavirus Pandemic?)

Variations of the claim have been posted in numerous Facebook groups and pages, according to CrowdTangle. There is, however, no truth to it.

Honjo denied making the comments in a statement through Kyoto University on April 27, saying, “In the wake of the pain, economic loss, and unprecedented global suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am greatly saddened that my name and that of Kyoto University have been used to spread false accusations and misinformation.”

The claim, debunked by Snopes in April, appears to have stemmed from the Twitter account @TasukuHonjo, which is not affiliated with the Kyoto professor and has been deleted.

Although the exact origins of the new coronavirus remain unknown, experts believe it likely came from bats, CNN reported. Its genetic sequence shares similarities with the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which spread from bats to humans through an intermediary species, according to Nature.

Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told the Washington Post that “absolutely nothing” in the genetic sequence indicates the virus was engineered.

Trevor Schakohl

Legal Reporter
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