Director's Seminar Series - Professor Edward Holmes, The University of Sydney

The Origin and Ongoing Evolution of COVID-19


I will outline our current understanding of the key events in the origin and emergence of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) at the end of 2019. Major topics of discussion will be possible zoonotic reservoirs for SARS-CoV-2, the diversity of SARS-CoV-2-like viruses in bats and other mammals, the signatures of origin written into genome sequences, and the possible role played by the Huanan market in Wuhan in the initial animal-to-human cross-species transmission event. I will show that there is increasing evidence that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 strongly resembles of that of SARS-CoV some 17 years earlier. I will also address whether it is possible that SARS-CoV-2 emerged as a result of ‘lab leak’ from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and show that there is currently no scientifically robust evidence in support of that theory. I will also briefly consider possible scenarios for the future evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and conclude by considering the steps that can be taken to stop such a catastrophic pandemic event ever happening again.


Eddie Holmes is an ARC Australian Laurate Fellow and Professor at the University of Sydney. Prior to that it was an NHMRC Australia Fellow at the University of Sydney, which he joined in 2012. Eddie received his undergraduate degree from the University of London (1986) and his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (1990). Between 1993-2004 he held various positions at the University of Oxford, including University Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology and Fellow of New College. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAA) in 2015 and of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2017. In 2017 he won the New South Wales Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering – Biological Sciences and in 2020 he won the overall New South Wales Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering. In 2021 he received the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.