The interactions between hosts and pathogens are studied by a researcher. She worked on the emerging Viruses that Cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The debate over where Covid-19 came from started when it erupted. She has been one of the most vocal scientists on the social networking site. She and 17 co-authors published findings in Science that they felt should silence all rational critics on the question.

There’s really no explanation other than that the virus started spreading in the human population at that market

In the Science paper, which started life as a preprint in February, you say that the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. Are you saying that the market in Huanan was the source of the epidemic? There is no other explanation for what our analysis shows, even though we don't know the exact spillover event. There were no Covid-19 cases prior to these early cases, which are all strongly associated with the market.

There were a lot of early cases associated with the market, nobody disputes that. The question was if the virus came from somewhere else and was amplified at the market. We did a lot of detective work to find out if there was a geographical relationship between those early cases. Nobody had done that sort of analysis before. The association with the market became stronger when we excluded the early cases that had a direct link with the market. The virus acquiring the capacity for human-to-human transmission at the market, so that people who hadn't been there started catching it from those who had, is consistent with that. It moved like water on a pond.

Workers in protective clothing at the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, China, in March 2020.

Workers in protective clothing at the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, China, in March 2020. Photograph: Héctor Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Many species of live animals were on sale at Huanan. We obtained plans of the market, and legal and business records regarding what species were sold at the various stalls, and we cross-referenced these with data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC). In the part of the market where the live animals were sold, there were cages, carts, and equipment that had been in contact with the animals. It wasn't well known.

One of my co-authors took a picture of a stall with live animals in cages and a cart. He took a photo while being shown the market by Chinese scientists who thought it was at high risk of viral spillover. Five samples were positive for sars-coV-2.

Many of the species on sale at the market are vulnerable to infections by sars-coV-2 When you look at the whole picture, there is no explanation other than that the virus started spreading in the human population at that market.

In the same issue of Science, there was a companion paper to yours. The early cases of the virus showed that it existed in two different groups, A and B. The group led by George Gao, the former head of the CCDC, showed that there was more than one lineage at the Huanan market. Jonathan Pekar of the University of California San Diego and colleagues reconstructed their family tree to show that they probably reached humans after two separate events.

If the virus had escaped from the lab, someone would have had to go to the market and get it from someone else, and then someone else would have had to get it from someone else as well. A simpler explanation is that the virus was brought to the market in an animal from where it spread to other animals. Humans were split into two different groups.

No meaningful further studies will happen without Chinese collaboration, and this debate has damaged the chances of that

We don't know how the virus got to the market in the first place, that's one of the criticisms of your paper A common supply chain is used in the live animal trade. The animals are brought to the market from all over the place. The market is an environment where human- to-human transmission can be established and sustained because there are many animals housed in close contact with each other. There are too few humans in remote areas that are prone to spills. The live animal trade was linked to the emergence of a related coronaviruses.

I don't think you can completely rule out a lab leak, but we have shown that it was from the market.

Is there more that could be discovered? We are still trying to figure out the susceptibility of the various species that were on the market. I would like to know more about the farms where the animals were raised, as well as any samples taken from those animals before the markets were closed. We may be able to identify the intermediate host, the animal from which the virus jumped to humans. I would like to know if people working in the live animal trade had elevated levels of sars-coV-2 in their blood.

One of the hardest things to talk about with people who support the lab leak theory is the possibility that this information exists. It would be worse if this came from the market. They were supposed to have cracked down on the live animal trade, but if it happens again, it will be a huge embarrassment for them. The debate has damaged the chances of further studies without Chinese involvement.

Some scientists who defend a natural origin have been accused of conflicts of interest because they collaborated with Chinese scientists. I've never worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. I have never been to China and I have never had a grant to work there. I have been accused of a conflict of interest because of the work I have done for the US Department of Defence. There are some wilder conspiracy theories.

A long-tailed pangolin Mangamba, Cameroon. The creatures are hunted for their scales and meat

Is Covid-19 a good thing for pangolins?

There is a debate over the origins of newviruses. There is an unrealistic expectation that the explanation will be easy. The term "patient zero" isn't helpful. It's not possible to identify the first person who got sick if there were more than one event. You can't completely prevent the debate from being politicized, but you can do the analyses that are most likely to get the attention of scientists. Critics will always be dissatisfied. They are trying to keep the lab leak theory alive by making it more complicated.

The debate has been toxic at times and you have been a warrior on social media. If I had known what was going to happen, I probably wouldn't have said anything. There isn't a lot of female co- authors on this paper. The men are accused of being corrupt or evil in comparison to the women who are accused of being ugly, fat, old and mediocre. I have had to call the police before. I have high self-esteem, but it makes me feel bad.

There are good and bad sides to the social networking site. It can be a great place to talk about science, to reach people that you wouldn't normally reach, and to meet colleagues. It was how I heard about my current job and I received a grant for a collaboration that started on social media. I collaborated with my co- authors on this paper. The origins discussion is one of the worst things about the social networking site. I don't think it's a good idea to regulate it in a way that silences people I don't agree with.