Lab-leak proponents — who have called her “an apologist” for virologists — have also been irked by the fact that Dr. Chan received so much credit for putting the question on the public agenda.
Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology said in early 2020 that they had found a virus in their database whose genome sequence was 96.2 percent similar to that of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus.
But it was internet sleuths and scientists who discovered that the virus matched one harvested in a cave linked to a pneumonia outbreak in 2012 that killed three miners — and that the Wuhan lab’s genomic database of bat coronaviruses was taken offline in late 2019.
Dr. Chan also landed a deal with Harper Collins, for an undisclosed amount, to co-author a book with Matt Ridley, a best-selling but controversial science writer who has been criticized for downplaying the seriousness of climate change.
She denies accusations that she is writing the book for financial gain, saying she simply wants a complete record of the facts that will last longer than a Twitter feed. She plans to donate the proceeds to a Covid-related charity.
“I don’t need money and frills,” she said.
Dr. Chan was born in Vancouver, but her parents returned to their native Singapore when she was an infant. She was a teen when the SARS epidemic hit there.
“People were dying of SARS, and it was nonstop on TV,” she recalled. “I was 15, and it really stuck with me. There were pictures of body bags in hospital hallways.”
“When Covid started, many people in Boston thought it was no big deal, that flu is worse,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is serious business.’”
She returned to Canada after high school, studying biochemistry and molecular biology at University of British Columbia, and completing a Ph.D. in medical genetics. By age 25, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, and then she took a position working for Dr. Deverman, who is the director of the vector engineering research group at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard.
Dr. Chan is “insightful, incredibly determined and apparently fearless,” Dr. Deverman said, and she has an uncanny ability “to synthesize large amounts of complex information, distill all of the details down to the most critical points and then communicate them in easy to understand language.”
A self-described workaholic, Dr. Chan married a fellow scientist during a break at an academic research conference a few years ago.
“We took the morning off and went to city hall and came back to the conference, and my boss asked, ‘Where were you?’” she said. “I was like, ‘I got married.’ I don’t even have a ring. My mother is horrified.”
She remains equivocal about the origins of the virus. “I’m leaning toward the lab leak theory now, but there are also days when I seriously consider that it could be from nature,” she said.
“On those days, I feel mostly really, really sorry for the scientists who are implicated as possible sources for the virus,” she said.
Referring to Shi Zhengli, the top Chinese virologist who leads the research on emerging infectious diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Dr. Chan said, “I feel really sad for her situation. The stakes could not be higher.”