Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).


We Need to Talk about Exosomes

The Corona Conspiracy, Part 3

Frank Visser

Denying the existence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and not just its harmfulness or contagiousness, is a very irresponsible and dangerous act.

Who would have thought that I ever had to write an essay about exosomes for Integral World? Exo-what? The concept was introduced to me by Andrew Kaufman in his video about the non-existence of the coronavirus (which had been promoted by David Icke in his notorious interview with London Real). In his opinion, "there is no evidence for a virus." Instead, according to Kaufman, what is really causing the symptoms of COVID-19 is something else, (an insult, toxins, radiation), and this causes exosomes to show up in cells. And these exosomes look very similar to the supposed coronavirus, or so he thinks, that's why they are mistaken to for a virus. What is more, these exosomes are a good thing, not a bad thing like a virus, says Kaufman, because they get rid of cell waste products.

Andrew Kaufman's "Virus Equals Exosome" Theory about COVID-19.

Unspecified causes
(stress, toxins, injury, psychological trauma, etc.)
SARS-CoV-2 virus
A real virus
A so-called "viral disease"
A real viral disease
expel waste from cells
Vaccination and
social measures

This highly unorthodox and dubious view of COVID-19 has been debunked in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, but we need to focus more on the concept of the exosome itself now, to really understand what Kaufman is driving at. And we need to assess if he was justified to quote virologist James Hildreth out of context to the extent that "the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word"—and hence claim confirmation from science for his own opinions—given the fact that Hildreth, as we have seen, firmly believes in the existence of the coronavirus, as he was quick to communicate to me on Twitter when I notified him about Kaufman's claims.

Andrew Kaufman, "Is COVID-19 really an exosome and not a virus?"


So first, what are exosomes according to regular science, and why should we bother?

Exosomes are membrane bound extracellular vesicles (EVs) that are produced in the endosomal compartment of most eukaryotic cells. The multivesicular body (MVB) is an endosome defined by intraluminal vesicles (ILVs) that bud inward into the endosomal lumen. If the MVB fuses with the cell surface (the plasma membrane), these ILVs are released as exosomes. In multicellular organisms, exosomes and other EVs are present in tissues and can also be found in biological fluids including blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid. They are also released in vitro by cultured cells into their growth medium. (Wikipedia)

This would be enough for most of you to stop reading, but let me try to summarize. Exosomes are small bubbles within most of our cells, both sick and healthy, which are produced by these cells and contain various material. They can leave the cell (hence exosome) and enter other cells or the extra-cellular areas, with various consequences. Research into the origin of these exosomes, their role in disease and possible therapeutic applications has really taken off in the past decade.

The exosomal pathway(a) and the content of exosomes(b).[1]

From a very recent (2019) overview article on exosome research we learn:

Exosomes are small (~30-140 nm) lipid bilayer-enclosed particles of endosomal origin. They are a subset of extracellular vesicles (EVs) that are secreted by most cell types. There has been growing interest in exosome research in the last decade due to their emerging role as intercellular messengers and their potential in disease diagnosis. Indeed, exosomes contain proteins, lipids, and RNAs that are specific to their cell origin and could deliver cargo to both nearby and distant cells. As a result, investigation of exosome cargo contents could offer opportunities for disease detection and treatment.[1]

Kaufman gives a table in his presentation about the supposed similarities of exosomes and the SARS-CoV-2 virus, implying that scientists might very well have confused the two. But these similarities are deceptive or even non-existent.

Similarities between exosomes and SARS-CoV-2 according to Andrew Kaufman.

Kaufman claims these exosomes look very much like viruses, but that's not the case. Multiple exosomes in a cell exist within a Multivesicular Endosome (MVE) or Multivesicular Body (MVB), so the size of the exosome (both within and outside the cell) is much smaller than that of the MVE/MVB. It is unclear why Kaufman thinks that the virus in the cell would be five times bigger than an extracellular virus! As explained earlier, viruses have various forms, from spherical to geometric to spiral, and even the similarity between the new coronavirus and exosomes is superficial: exosomes don't have the spikes that are so characteristic of coronaviruses. Besides, exosomes don't multiply like viruses typically do within the cells they have infected.

So what's the point of drawing attention to these "similarities", to be able to deny the existence of the virus itself? In Kaufman's opinion, these "bubbles" are not the cause of COVID-19 but the result of it. They are especially produced in sick cells. Wrong again, they are produced in healthy cells as well.

Some of the False Statements about COVID-19 by Andrew Kaufman

Exosomes and viruses look the same, and are indistinguishable. WRONG: viruses have various shapes, and differ from exosomes.
Exosomes and coronaviruses look the same. WRONG: coronaviruses typically have large spikes.
Exosomes are produced by sick cells in lungs. WRONG: exosomes exist in most cell types.
"The virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word" WRONG: exosomes don't have spikes and don't reproduce.
There is no evidence for a virus, it doesn't exist. WRONG: SARS-CoV-2 has been fully sequenced.
COVID-19 has other causes than a virus (such as toxins). WRONG: symptoms can specifically be related to the virus.
The causes of COVID-19 are mostly environmental. WRONG: symptoms spread like an infectious disease.

In a long interview with London Real—the same medium that featured the interview with David Icke as discussed in Part 1—Kaufman elaborates further on the relationship/identy of viruses and exosomes:

Andrew Kaufman
Andrew Kaufman: ‘I think I
know what is really going on.’
So the structure of exosomes would be, they are very simple, very small, the same size as virus particles, there is a range of sizes as there are for viruses as well, and they have a very simple structure, a membrane, several proteins on the membrane, one of them is a receptor, like a key mechanism that finds the right lock of the target cell, so it can to into the target cell with which it is supposed to communicate, and then inside the vesicle there is some kind of genetic material. And it could be a variety of different materials, it could be various forms of DNA and RNA - just as it has been described in virus particles.
So, there is another role that has been demonstrated in scientific studies where sometimes these exosomes can take up toxic materials, like bacterial endotoxins, from the environment outside the cells, and then prevent the cells from being exposed to these toxic materials. So that may be one role.
So, the reason why this is so important is, one, the similarities have been recognized by scientists, including virologists, and many times scientists have actually said they are the same thing, or they have substantial overlap. Including prominent virologists. And they also found them to have a combination of what they call viral RNA or DNA mixed with human RNA or DNA. So remember from what I said earlier that we don't know the true source of what they call "viral genetic material". And nonetheless, whatever it is, they found it in our own body, in these exosomes. (1:40) [2]

Now this is patently untrue. Kaufman suggests that we have never seen viruses (but check out some stellar photos of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the bottom of this article), and that what we see under a microscope are actually exosomes, which look very similar (in his opinion). And this has been "recognized by scientists, including virologists"? Care to name a few? Here's another vague generalization: "many times scientists have actually said they are the same thing." Again, no references are given. And to top it off: "Including prominent virologists." He obviously has James Hildreth in mind, whom he quotes in his earlier video on COVID-19. These exosomes can indeed contain viral RNA or DNA (not "what they call viral RNA or DNA", no, from a real virus) for reasons that Kaufman cannot explain to you. The true source of "what they call 'viral genetic material'" is very well understood by science, as you can see when you read the relevant literature. But Kaufman claims support from a famous scientist who doesn't share his views—the deep pit of pseudo-science.

I am afraid dr. Kaufman cannot tell us fact from fiction, as the title of this London interview proudly claims: he adds more fiction of his own. It is not entirely clear what his agenda is: cast doubt on the existence of viruses as such? Or only this particular virus? Might as well deny the existence of atoms. Perhaps he does as well.

Is it more economical to explain COVID-19 symptoms with some unspecified cause than with the SARS-CoV-2 virus? If these symptoms are caused by an unspecified other cause (or causes), how can the contagiousness of the disease be explained? Take a simple example like the following. Most members of a Washington choir become ill after only two rehearsals, due to one of its members having COVID-19.[3] Two died, 87% developed symptoms. Food poisoning, stress, fear, cancer, 5G, toxins? A virus is the most economical explanation for this spread of the disease, especially because it is transmitted from the human throat through the air, and collective singing of course intensifies this risk considerably. Lack of ventilation finishes the job.

Denying the existence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and not just its harmfulness or contagiousness, is a very irresponsible and dangerous act. It leads to behavior that increases the chances it will spread to all of us. It will divert our attention from the real harm that is being done by the coronavirus. Kaufman recommends: just take Vitamin C! (I am serious).

Medical advice from Andrew Kaufman against COVID-19.

Rebecca Novick, in a long article on Medium in which she debunks Kaufman's video point by point, has called this behavior "sinister", and I agree:

Most conspiracists I've come across accept the real and present danger of the coronavirus while claiming that it's man-made and/or designed to re-boot society in some way post lockdown to strip us of individual rights. These people do not suggest that the coronavirus is not real or not a health risk, although some may think it's dangers are being over-sold. Others, however, go further. It is in this more sinister camp that we find the likes of Dr. Andrew Kaufman... .[4]
Check ou Part 2 to see the twelve aspects of the scientific view of COVID-19 that can be denied by conspirationists or dissident-scientists.

Quoting Science out of context

As discussed in Part 1 and 2, Kaufman makes much of a quote by James Hildreth as saying "the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word" , as you can see in this slide of his video:

Andrew Kaufman quotes James Hildreth
Andrew Kaufman misquotes James Hildreth in support of his own opinion that viruses are actually exosomes (confirmation bias).

Did Hildreth mean that viruses observed under the microscope are actually exosomes? Not by any stretch. His "Trojan hypothesis" postulates that (real) viruses can hide within exosomes, and thus escape our immune system's attention. (Hildreth's quote refers to the AIDS virus, which works different from the coronaviruses, but never mind the details.) In computer language, a "trojan horse" is a sort of malware which is the camouflaging of authenticated or legitimate software. The similarity with real viruses is very illustrative: they hide their true nature so they can pass the virus-scan (the computer's immune system). As we can be misguided by a computer virus, so can the cell mistake a virus for an exosome that is just doing its daily duties.

The unreferenced quote ascribed to Hildreth in Wells' 2003 article
The unreferenced quote ascribed to Hildreth in Wells' 2003 article.

Unfortunately this quote from Hildreth has now gone viral (pun intended) by Kaufman's misuse of it. His video has been watched by an incredible number of 166.000 people by now, and that number will most likely increase even more.

I have been searching for the context of this particular quote from Hildreth, but found it only mentioned in passing in the article "When is a virus an exosome?" by William A. Wells[5]. Wells references an article of which Hildreth was co-author called "The Trojan exosome hypothesis"[6], but unfortunately that article doesn't contain that particular quote. When I asked Hildreth on Twitter for clarification directly he did not respond. Obviously he doesn't want to waste time on these pseudo-scientific fabrications. So what I did instead is search the recent overview literature on exosome research for any reference to Hildreth's "Trojan hypothesis".

This is what I found about the "cargo" of these vesicles, again in the same overview article I quoted from earlier—and again, bear with me about the medical jargon:

In addition to proteomic cargoes, exosomes carry genetic materials including miRNA, various non-coding RNAs, mitochondrial RNAs, and mRNAs [Fig. 1(b)].30 The mechanisms for loading these cargoes is not yet known, though it has been proposed that RNA cargo associates with sphingomyelin and cholesterol enriched regions of the budding membrane prior to bud formation.31 A different model involves the sorting of RNA by sumoylated hnRNPA2B1 via the presence of a "zip code" in the 3'UTR of mRNA.32,33 Conversely, it has been noted that exosomal RNA cargo reflects the state and cytoplasmic content of the cell of origin.34 Regardless of the loading mechanism, it has been determined that exosomes provide a method to exchange genetic information between cells.35 Considered the main functional component of the exosome, once in the recipient cell, RNA plays the role it would in the cell of origin (e.g., miRNA repressing target mRNA).36 That said, the RNA transported by exosomes is not always native to the cell; infected cells have been noted to produce exosomes containing RNA of viral origin which, upon uptake, infects the recipient cell.37 An extreme example of this can be seen with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) for which it has been postulated that the membrane casing of the virus is in fact a hijacked exosome carrying viral RNA.38[1]

These are the key sentences: "the RNA transported by exosomes is not always native to the cell; infected cells have been noted to produce exosomes containing RNA of viral origin which, upon uptake, infects the recipient cell." So viral genetic material can hide within exosomes to exit the cell and continue its devastating work. This is followed by a direct reference to Hildreth's Trojan hypothesis: "An extreme example of this can be seen with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) for which it has been postulated that the membrane casing of the virus is in fact a hijacked exosome carrying viral RNA." So this is a particular hypothesis ("it has been postulated") by Hildreth about the behavior of the AIDS virus. It not a categorical statement about any virus being actually an exosome, as Kaufman wants us to believe. Far from it.

Novick is therefore again spot on when she concludes:

Is SARS-CoV-2 an exosome? No. But it would like you to think it is. It certainly has Dr. Kaufman fooled. And it also fools our immune systems...
Exosomes and SARS-CoV-2 are, he claims, "essentially the same in every important way." All except for one very important way, Dr. Kaufman. An exosome is an enzyme that holds great promise for our understanding of cell communication and chemical pathways. SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that walks, talks and acts like an exosome and has infected, crippled and killed millions of human beings.[3]
Is SARS-CoV-2 an exosome? No. But it would like you to think it is. It certainly has Dr. Kaufman fooled. And it also fools our immune systems...


Ribbon view of the human exosome complex.
"Ribbon view" of the human exosome complex.

In the science view everything can in principle be specified: how the virus infects the cell, how if reproduces, how it leaves the cell, and how it further infects new cells. In Kaufman's medical "theory", there is no mechanism specified between the various causes and the symptoms of the disease, other than that they supposedly weaken our immune system. But even if that were the case, for example because of 5G—remember, this was the main thesis of David Icke in his London Real interview—it would require a real virus to take advantage of that weak immune system.

But Kaufman doesn't even consider that option: he plainly denies the virus is real. "There is no evidence for a virus." His contention that the virus is actually an exosome is without any factual basis. To repeat: science offers a much more interesting connection between viruses and exosomes: in a certain phase of the viral life cycle, when the virus needs to exit the infected cell, it hijacks the already existing exosome pathways to encase itself in a way that escapes the immune system's attention. Again, science can specify the mechanisms involved to the very molecular detail. Pseudo-science cannot do this, or it invents imaginary mechanisms of its own, which results in disinformation.

COVID-19 can lead to terrible complications, including not only the lungs, but the heart, blood vessels, digestive tract, kidneys, brain and even the central nervous system.[7] This is due to the receptor it uses and which exists in many parts of the body. Rembember the US doctor that told us in a widely distributed video that "it's not pneumonia, it is something else!". Conspirationists saw this as "evidence" that we are not being told the whole story—their bottom line conviction—but science just investigates further to find facts about how SARS-CoV-2 actually ravages our health. Those who think that the many people who have been reported to have died from this disease actually died from secondary illnesses again might be wrong: SARS-CoV-2 attacks exactly these weakened systems in the body to kill the patient.

That's what we need: fact-based information about this global pandemic, not simplistic solutions coming from an over-heated paranoid brain, or health-food advice from quacks who cherry-pick science to suit their needs. As a first line of defence, boosting your immune system may be a very good idea, but this is an enemy that requires stronger measures. Some have suggested that attacking David Icke and Andrew Kaufman for their mistaken views on COVID-19 is low hanging fruit, but given the huge audience they reach—Icke's now banned YouTube channel had over one hundred million(!) views—the serious damage done by these two gentlemen should not be underestimated.


So, dr. Kaufman, does this look like an exosome to you? Or a real virus?

transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2
This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the US, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (Image: NIAID-RML)


[1] Xia Li, et. al. "Challenges and opportunities in exosome research: Perspectives from biology, engineering, and cancer therapy", APL Bioengv.3(1); 2019 MarPMC6481742.

[2] Dr. Andrew Kaufman, "Unmasking The Lies Around COVID-19: Facts vs Fiction of the Coronavirus Pandemic",, no date.

[3] David Williams, "How coronavirus spread from one member to 87% of the singers at a Washington choir practice",, May 13, 2020.

[4] Rebecca Novick, "10 things a conspiracy theorist taught me about the novel coronavirus",, Apr 16, 2020.

[5] William A. Wells, "When is a virus an exosome?", J Cell Biol. 2003 Sep 15; 162(6): 960.

[6] Stephen J. Gould, Amy M. Booth, and James E. K. Hildreth, "The Trojan exosome hypothesis", Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Sep 16; 100(19): 10592-10597.

[7] Johnny Wood, "These are the ways doctors think coronavirus can attack the body", 01 May 2020.


If you still need to be convinced about the real existence of the COVID-19 virus, check this stellar collection of photos:

Check out: 27 Covid-19 Myths &
83 Vaccine Myths from
To all those who claim SARS-CoV-2—or any virus—does not exist: the virosphere consists of 4 realms, 9 kingdoms, 16 phyla, 2 subphyla, 36 classes, 55 orders, 8 suborders, 168 families, 103 subfamilies, 1421 genera, 68 subgenera, 6590 species. Take that.

A summary of early parts of this series has appeared in the Dutch magazine Skepter 33(3), September 2020, as "Viruses don't exist" (covering Parts 1-5). German: Skeptiker (December 2020); English: (January 2021)

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