Biohazards News Tracker: Best articles on SARS-CoV-2 origins, biolabs and gain of function research

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Here is a reading list about what is known and not known about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, accidents and leaks at biosafety and biowarfare laboratories, and the health risks of gain-of-function (GOF) research, which aims to increase the host range, transmissibility, infectivity or pathogenicity of potential pandemic pathogens. U.S. Right to Know is conducting research on these topics and posting the findings in our Biohazards Blog.

This reading list is a work in progress. We will update it. Please send readings we may have missed to Sainath Suryanarayanan at sainath@usrtk.org.

Topics (drop links)

Most recent articles

The Washington Post. Opinion: The WHO needs to start over in investigating the origins of the coronavirus. The Editorial Board. March 6, 2021.

Wall Street Journal. WHO Investigators to Scrap Plans for Interim Report on Probe of Covid-19 Origins. Betsy McKay, Drew Hinshaw and Jeremy Page. March 4, 2021.

The Washington Post. Opinion: The U.S. should reveal its intelligence about the Wuhan laboratory. The Editorial Board. February 22, 2021.

Wall Street Journal. Who Are the Covid Investigators? Members of a WHO origin probe have conflicts of interest. The Editorial Board. February 15, 2021.

Wall Street Journal. China Refuses to Give WHO Raw Data on Early Covid-19 Cases. Jeremy Page and Drew Hinshaw. February 12, 2021.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. WHO: COVID-19 didn’t leak from a lab. Also WHO: Maybe it did. Filipa Lentzos. February 11, 2021.

The Washington Post. As WHO coronavirus mission leaves empty-handed, China claims propaganda win. Gerry Shih. February 10, 2021.

The Washington Post. After Wuhan mission on pandemic origins, WHO team dismisses lab leak theory. Gerry Shih and Emily Rauhala. February 9, 2021.

The Telegraph. Did the Covid-19 virus really escape from a Wuhan lab? Matt Ridley and Alina Chan. February 6, 2021.

The Washington Post. We’re still missing the origin story of this pandemic. China is sitting on the answers. The Editorial Board. February 5, 2021.

What are the origins of SARS-CoV-2?

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To stop the next pandemic, we need to unravel the origins of COVID-19. David A. Relman. November 3, 2020.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Did the SARS-CoV-2 virus arise from a bat coronavirus research program in a Chinese laboratory? Very possibly. Milton Leitenberg. June 4, 2020.

Wall Street Journal. The World Needs a Real Investigation into the Origins of Covid-19. Alina Chan and Matt Ridley. January 15, 2021.

New York Magazine. The lab-leak hypothesis. Nicholson Baker. January 4, 2021.

Newsweek. Beijing Must Come Clean About COVID-19 Origins | Opinion. Jamie Metzl. January 22, 2021

Wall Street Journal. The Covid-19 Origin Investigation. The Editorial Board. January 23, 2021.

Bloomberg. We Still Don’t Know Where Covid-19 Came From. Faye Flam. January 12, 2021.

Nature Medicine. On the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Angela Rasmussen. January 13, 2021.

The Times. Biological weapons lab leaked coronavirus, claims US official. Didi Tang. January 4, 2021.

The Washington Post. State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses. Josh Rogin. April 14, 2020.

BBC. Covid: Wuhan scientist would ‘welcome’ visit probing lab leak theory. John Sudworth. December 22, 2020.

Houston Chronicle. UTMB scientist acknowledges safety risks at Chinese lab doing coronavirus research. Nick Powell. April 23, 2020. 

The Wall Street Journal. NIH presses U.S. nonprofit for information on Wuhan virology lab. Betsy McKay. August 19, 2020.  

The Wall Street Journal. So where did the virus come from? Matt Ridley. May 29, 2020. 

French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). The origin of SARS-CoV-2 is being seriously questioned. Yaroslav Pigenet. November 9, 2020.

The Times. How did Covid-19 start? Hunt for patient zero has become caught in a clash of great powers. Tom Whipple. December 31, 2020.

CNET. The twisted, messy hunt for COVID-19’s origin and the lab leak theory. Jackson Ryan. January 19, 2021.

Boston Magazine. Could COVID-19 have escaped from a lab? Rowan Jacobsen. September 9, 2020. 

Nature. The biggest mystery: what it will take to trace the coronavirus source. David Cyranoski. June 5, 2020.

Newsweek. The controversial experiments and Wuhan lab suspected of starting the coronavirus pandemic. Fred Guterl, Naveed Jamali and Tom O’Connor. April 27, 2020.

The Washington Post. State Department releases cable that launched claims that coronavirus escaped from Chinese lab. John Hudson and Nate Jones. July 17, 2020. 

The Telegraph. Scientists to examine possibility Covid leaked from lab as part of investigation into virus origins. Paul Nuki. September 15, 2020.  

NBC News. Report says cellphone data suggests October shutdown at Wuhan lab, but experts are skeptical. Ken Dilanian, Ruaridh Arrow, Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee, Louise Jones and Lorand Bodo. May 9, 2020. 

Washington Post. How did covid-19 begin? Its initial origin story is shaky. David Ignatius. April 2, 2020.

The Times. Revealed: Seven year coronavirus trail from mine deaths to a Wuhan lab. George Arbuthnott, Jonathan Calvert, and Philip Sherwell. July 4, 2020.

South China Morning Post. WHO’s coronavirus detectives look to Wuhan market as undisclosed map surfaces. John Power and Simone McCarthy. December 15, 2020.

South China Morning Post. Coronavirus: World Health Organization’s Wuhan probe not looking for ‘guilty’ parties. Agence France-Presse. December 24, 2020.

BBC. Wuhan: City of silence; Looking for answers in the place where coronavirus started. John Sudworth. July 2020.

The New York Times, 8 questions from a disease detective on the pandemic’s origins. William J. Broad. July 8, 2020.

Science. A WHO-led mission may investigate the pandemic’s origin. Here are the key questions to ask. Jon Cohen. July 10, 2020.

The New York Times. In Hunt for Virus Source, W.H.O. Let China Take Charge. Selam Gebrekidan, Matt Apuzzo, Amy Qin and . November 2, 2020.

The Washington Post. The coronavirus’s origins are still a mystery. We need a full investigation. The Editorial Board. November 14, 2020.

Independent. Coronavirus: Former MI6 head claims pandemic ‘started as accident’ in Chinese laboratory. Andy Gregory. June 4, 2020.

The Wall Street Journal. In rare move, U.S. intelligence agencies confirm investigating if coronavirus emerged from lab accident. Warren P. Strobel and Dustin Volz. April 30, 2020.

The Wall Street Journal. China bat expert says her Wuhan lab wasn’t source of new coronavirus. James T. Areddy. April 21, 2020.

ABC News. Sorry, conspiracy theorists. Study concludes COVID-19 ‘is not a laboratory construct’. Kate Holland. March 27, 2020. 

The Economist. The pieces of the puzzle of Covid-19’s origin are coming to light. May 2, 2020. 

The Wall Street Journal. The Wuhan lab theory. The Editorial Board. May 6, 2020. 

The Guardian. Ignore the conspiracy theories: Scientists know Covid-19 wasn’t created in a lab. Peter Daszak. June 9, 2020. 

The Daily Telegraph. Scientists say COVID-19 may have been cooked up in lab. Sharri Markson. June 1, 2020.

Science. Trump ‘owes us an apology.’ Chinese scientist at the center of COVID-19 origin theories speaks out. Jon Cohen. July 24, 2020.

Science. Reply to Science Magazine: Shi Zhengli Q&A. Shi Zhengli. July 15, 2020.

Minerva. Contradicting statements cast doubts on Chinese raw data. Aksel Fridstrøm. September 10, 2020. 

Minerva. The most logical explanation is that it comes from a laboratory. Aksel Fridstrøm and Nils August Andresen. July 2, 2020. 

Newsweek. Dr. Fauci backed controversial Wuhan lab with U.S. dollars for risky coronavirus research. Fred Guterl. April 28, 2020.

Independent Science News. The case is building that COVID-19 had a lab origin. Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson. June 5, 2020.

Independent Science News. A proposed origin for SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson. July 15, 2020.

The Federalist. Virologist explains his quest to track down the origin of COVID-19. Julian Vigo. September 2, 2020. 

Sam Husseini Blog. Questioning the CDC: Is it a complete coincidence that China’s only BSL4 is in Wuhan? Audio and video. Sam Husseini. April 17, 2020.

GMWatch. Wuhan and US scientists used undetectable methods of genetic engineering on bat coronaviruses. Jonathan Matthews and Claire Robinson. May 20, 2020. 

Corporate Crime Reporter. Andrew Kimbrell on the origins of COVID-19. Russell Mokhiber. August 11, 2020.

GMWatch. Was the COVID-19 virus genetically engineered? Jonathan Matthews. April 22, 2020.

GMWatch. Why are the lab escape denialists telling such brazen lies? Jonathan Matthews. June 17, 2020. 

NBC News. Inside the Chinese lab central to the search for the coronavirus’ origin. Janis Mackey Frayer and Denise Chow. August 10, 2020.

The Intercept. In Its Zeal to Blame China for Coronavirus, the Trump Administration Is Thwarting Investigations Into the Pandemic’s Origins. Mara Hvistendahl. May 19, 2020.

South China Morning Post. WHO names line-up for international team looking into coronavirus origins. Simone McCarthy. November 25, 2020.

Edizioni Cantagalli. Cina Covid 19. La chimera che ha cambiato il mondo (China COVID-19: The Chimera That Changed the World). Joseph Tritto. August 2020. 

Transparency failures and the suppression of evidence regarding COVID-19

Associated Press. China clamps down in hidden hunt for coronavirus origins. Dake Kang, Maria Cheng And Sam McNeil. December 30, 2020.

The Wall Street Journal. On the ground in Wuhan, signs of China stalling probe of coronavirus origins. Jeremy Page and Natasha Khan. May 12, 2020.

The New York Times. 25 Days That Changed the World: How Covid-19 Slipped China’s Grasp. Chris Buckley, David D. Kirkpatrick, Amy Qin and Javier C. Hernández. December 30, 2020.

The New York Times. Chinese Citizen Journalist Sentenced to 4 Years for Covid Reporting. Vivian Wang. December 28, 2020.

ProPublica. Leaked Documents Show How China’s Army of Paid Internet Trolls Helped Censor the Coronavirus. Raymond Zhong, Paul Mozur, Aaron Krolik and Jeff Kao. December 19, 2020.

The New York Times. China peddles falsehoods to push the idea that the virus came from somewhere else. Javier C. Hernández. December 6, 2020.

Bloomberg. China Is Making It Harder to Solve the Mystery of How Covid Began. December 30, 2020.

Financial Times. Chinese media step up campaign to muddy probe into Covid origins. Christian Shepherd. November 26, 2020.

Sky News Australia. Released emails reveal ‘no truth or transparency’ in letter regarding origin of COVID-19. Sharri Markson. November 22, 2020.

Accidents, leaks, containment failures, transparency failures in biosafety facilities

The New Yorker. The risks of building too many bio labs. Elisabeth Eaves. March 18, 2020. 

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Human error in high-biocontainment labs: a likely pandemic threat. Lynn Klotz. February 25, 2019. 

James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. A Guide to Investigating Outbreak Origins: Nature versus the Laboratory. Richard Pilch, Miles Pomper, Jill Luster, and Filippa Lentzos. October 2020.

ProPublica. Here are six accidents UNC researchers had with lab-created coronaviruses. Alison Young and Jessica Blake. August 17, 2020. 

CBC. Canadian scientist sent deadly viruses to Wuhan lab months before RCMP asked to investigate. June 16, 2020.

The Frederick News-Post. CDC inspection findings reveal more about USAMRIID research suspension. Heather Mongilio. November 23, 2019. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID): description of inspection findings definitions. August 2019.

U.S. Government Accountability Office. High-containment laboratories: Comprehensive and up-to-date policies and stronger oversight mechanisms needed to improve safety. April 19, 2016. GAO-16-305. 

USA Today. 10 incidents discovered at the nation’s biolabs. Alison Young and Nick Penzenstadler. May 29, 2015. 

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Threatened pandemics and laboratory escapes: self-fulfilling prophecies. Martin Furmanski. March 31, 2014.

Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. Laboratory Escapes and “Self-fulfilling prophecy” Epidemics. Martin Furmanski. February 17, 2014.

National Research Council. Biosecurity challenges of the global expansion of high-containment biological laboratories: summary of a workshop. 2012. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/13315 

US House of Representatives. Committee on Energy and Commerce. Hearing on germs, viruses, and secrets: the silent proliferation of bio-laboratories in the United States, 110th Congress. October 4, 2007.

US House of Representatives. Committee on Energy and Commerce. Hearing on Federal Oversight Of High-Containment Biolaboratories, One Hundred Eleventh Congress. September 22, 2009.

BMJ. Breaches of safety regulations are probable cause of recent SARS outbreak, WHO says. Jane Parry. May 22, 2004. doi: 10.1136/bmj.328.7450.1222-b

Independent Science News. The long history of accidental laboratory releases of potential pandemic pathogens is being ignored in the COVID-19 media coverage. Sam Husseini. May 5, 2020.

GMWatch. COVID-19: A wake-up call for biosafety. Jonathan Matthews. April 24, 2020. 

USA Today. CDC failed to disclose lab incidents with bioterror pathogens to Congress. Alison Young. June 24, 2016.

Global Times. Biosafety guideline issued to fix chronic management loopholes at virus labs. Liu Caiyu and Leng Shumei. February 16, 2020.

CBS News. Investigation: U.S. company bungled Ebola response. The Associated Press. March 7, 2016. 

GMWatch. Journals censor lab origin theory for SARS-CoV-2. Claire Robinson. July 16, 2020. 

Networks of biodefense and biowarfare 

Salon. Did this virus come from a lab? Maybe not — but it exposes the threat of a biowarfare arms race. Sam Husseini. April 24, 2020.

Independent Science News. Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance Has Hidden Almost $40 Million In Pentagon Funding And Militarized Pandemic Science. Sam Husseini. December 16, 2020.

Sam Husseini Blog. Averting our gaze from biowarfare: pandemics and self-fulfilling prophecies. Sam Husseini. May 2020. 

The Boston Globe. The lure of bio-weapons. Bernard Lown and Prasannan Parthasarathi. February 23, 2005. 

Monterey Institute of International Studies. Beijing on biohazards: Chinese experts on bioweapons nonproliferation issues. Amy E. Smithson, Editor. August 2007. The James Martin Center For Nonproliferation Studies.

Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons since 1945. Mark Wheelis, Lajos Rózsa, and Malcolm Dando (Editors). Harvard University Press, 2006.

Biowarfare and Terrorism. Francis Boyle. 2005. Clarity Press, Inc.

Preventing a Biological Arms Race. Susan Wright (Editor). The MIT Press, 1990. 

Biohazard. Ken Alibek with Stephen Handelman. Random House: New York, 1999. 

Debates on gain-of-function research

The National Academies Press. Potential risks and benefits of gain-of-function research: summary of a workshop. 2015. 

Forbes. Should we allow scientists to create dangerous super-viruses? Steven Salzberg. October 20, 2014. 

The Cambridge Working Group. Cambridge Working Group consensus statement on the creation of potential pandemic pathogens (PPPs). July 14, 2014. 

mBio. Can limited scientific value of potential pandemic pathogen experiments justify the risks? Marc Lipsitch. October 14, 2014. doi: https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.02008-14 

mBio. Research on Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Influenza Virus: The Way Forward. Anthony S. Fauci. September-October 2012, 3(5): e00359-12. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00359-12

mBio. Falling down the rabbit hole: aTRIP toward lexiconic precision in the “gain-of-function” debate. W. Paul Duprex and Arturo Casadevall. vol. 5,6 e02421-14. 12 Dec. 2014, doi:10.1128/mBio.02421-14

PLoS Medicine. Ethical alternatives to experiments with novel potential pandemic pathogens. Marc Lipsitch and Alison Galvani. 2014. 11(5): e1001646. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001646  

Scientific papers on the origins of SARS-CoV-2

Environmental Chemistry Letters. Tracing the origins of SARS-COV-2 in coronavirus phylogenies: a review. Erwan Sallard, José Halloy, Didier Casane, Etienne Decroly and Jacques van Helden. February 4, 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10311-020-01151-1

The Lancet. Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Chaolin Huang et al. January 30, 2020. Volume 395: 497–506. 

Nature. A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Peng Zhou, Xing-Lou Yang, Xian-Guang Wang, Ben Hu,…and Zheng-Li Shi. February 3, 2020. 579(7798): 270-273. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2012-7

Nature. Addendum: A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Peng Zhou, Xing-Lou Yang, Xian-Guang Wang, Ben Hu,…and Zheng-Li Shi. November 17, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2951-z

Nature Medicine. The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Kristian G. Andersen, Andrew Rambaut, W. Ian Lipkin, Edward C. Holmes, Robert F. Garry. April 2020. Volume 26, pages 450-455. 

Journal of Medical Virology. Questions concerning the proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Murat Seyran, Damiano Pizzol, Parise Adadi…and Adam M. Brufsky. September 3, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.26478 

BioEssays. Might SARS‐CoV‐2 have arisen via serial passage through an animal host or cell culture? Karl Sirotkin and Dan Sirotkin. August 12, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1002/bies.202000091

Frontiers in Public Health. Lethal pneumonia cases in Mojiang miners (2012) and the mineshaft could provide important clues to the origin of SARS-CoV-2. Monali Rahalkar and Rahul Bahulikar. September 17, 2020. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.581569

BioEssays. The genetic structure of SARS‐CoV‐2 does not rule out a laboratory origin. Rossana Segreto and Yuri Deigin. November 17, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1002/bies.202000240

bioRxiv. SARS-CoV-2 is well adapted for humans. What does this mean for re-emergence? Shing Hei Zhan, Benjamin E. Deverman, Yujia Alina Chan. May 2, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.01.073262 

Zenodo. Where Did the 2019 Coronavirus Pandemic Begin and How Did it Spread? The People’s Liberation Army Hospital in Wuhan China and Line 2 of the Wuhan Metro System Are Compelling Answers. Steven Carl Quay. October 28, 2020. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.4119262

Zenodo. A Bayesian analysis concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that SARS-CoV-2 is not a natural zoonosis but instead is laboratory derived. Dr. Steven Quay. January 29, 2021.

Minerva. The evidence which suggests that this is no naturally evolved virus: A reconstructed historical aetiology of the SARS-CoV-2 spike. Birger Sørensen, Angus Dalgleish & Andres Susrud. July 1, 2020.

ResearchGate. Is considering a genetic-manipulation origin for SARS-CoV-2 a conspiracy theory that must be censored? Rossana Segreto and Yuri Deigin. April 2020. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.31358.13129/1

Preprints. Major concerns on the identification of bat coronavirus strain RaTG13 and quality of related Nature paper. Xiaoxu Lin, Shizhong Chen. June 5, 2020. 2020060044. doi: 10.20944/preprints202006.0044.v1 

Preprints. The abnormal nature of the fecal swab sample used for NGS analysis of RaTG13 genome sequence imposes a question on the correctness of the RaTG13 sequence. Monali Rahalkar and Rahul Bahulikar. August 11, 2020. doi: 10.20944/preprints202008.0205.v1 

OSF Preprints. COVID-19, SARS and bats coronaviruses genomes unexpected exogeneous RNA sequences. Jean-Claude Perez and Luc Montagnier. April 25, 2020. doi:10.31219/osf.io/d9e5g 

Zenodo. HIV man-manipulated coronavirus genome evolution trends. Jean-Claude Perez and Luc Montagnier. August 2, 2020. 

Emerging Microbes & Infections. HIV-1 did not contribute to the 2019-nCoV genome. Xiao Chuan, Li Xiaojun, Liu Shuying, Sang Yongming, Gao Shou-Jiang and Gao Feng. 2020. 9(1): 378-381. doi: 10.1080/22221751.2020.1727299

arXiv. In silico comparison of spike protein-ACE2 binding affinities across species; significance for the possible origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Sakshi Piplani, Puneet Kumar Singh, David A. Winkler, Nikolai Petrovsky. May 13, 2020. 

Nature. Identifying SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins. Tommy Tsan-Yuk Lam, Na Jia, Ya-Wei Zhang, Marcus Ho-Hin Shum, Jia-Fu Jiang, Hua-Chen Zhu, Yi-Gang Tong, Yong-Xia Shi, Xue-Bing Ni, Yun-Shi Liao, Wen-Juan Li, Bao-Gui Jiang, Wei Wei, Ting-Ting Yuan, Kui Zheng, Xiao-Ming Cui, Jie Li, Guang-Qian Pei, Xin Qiang, William Yiu-Man Cheung, Lian-Feng Li, Fang-Fang Sun, Si Qin, Ji-Cheng Huang, Gabriel M. Leung, Edward C. Holmes, Yan-Ling Hu, Yi Guan & Wu-Chun Cao. March 26, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2169-0

PLoS Pathogens. Are pangolins the intermediate host of the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)? Ping Liu, Jing-Zhe Jiang, Xiu-Feng Wan, Yan Hua, Linmiao Li, Jiabin Zhou, Xiaohu Wang, Fanghui Hou, Jing Chen, Jiejian Zou, Jinping Chen. May 14, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008421

Nature. Isolation of SARS-CoV-2-related coronavirus from Malayan pangolins. Kangpeng Xiao, Junqiong Zhai, Yaoyu Feng, Niu Zhou, Xu Zhang, Jie-Jian Zou, Na Li, Yaqiong Guo, Xiaobing Li, Xuejuan Shen, Zhipeng Zhang, Fanfan Shu, Wanyi Huang, Yu Li, Ziding Zhang, Rui-Ai Chen, Ya-Jiang Wu, Shi-Ming Peng, Mian Huang, Wei-Jun Xie, Qin-Hui Cai, Fang-Hui Hou, Wu Chen, Lihua Xiao & Yongyi She. May 7, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2313-x

Current Biology. Probable Pangolin Origin of SARS-CoV-2 Associated with the COVID-19 Outbreak. Tao Zhang, Qunfu Wu, Zhigang Zhang. March 19, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.022

bioRxiv. Single source of pangolin CoVs with a near identical Spike RBD to SARS-CoV-2. Yujia Alina Chan and Shing Hei Zhan. October 23, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.07.184374

Infection, Genetics and Evolution. COVID-19: Time to exonerate the pangolin from the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans. Roger Frutos, Jordi Serra-Cobo, Tianmu Chen and Christian A. Devaux. Volume 84, October 2020, 104493. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104493

bioRxiv. No evidence of coronaviruses or other potentially zoonotic viruses in Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) entering the wildlife trade via Malaysia. Jimmy Lee, Tom Hughes, Mei-Ho Lee, Hume Field, Jeffrine Japning Rovie-Ryan, Frankie Thomas Sitam, Symphorosa Sipangkui, Senthilvel K.S.S. Nathan, Diana Ramirez, Subbiah Vijay Kumar, Helen Lasimbang, Jonathan H. Epstein, Peter Daszak. June 19, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.19.158717

Archives of Virology. A palindromic RNA sequence as a common breakpoint contributor to copy-choice recombination in SARS-CoV-2. William R. Gallaher. July 31, 2020.

Cell. A genomic perspective on the origin and emergence of SARS-CoV-2. Yong-Zhen Zhang, Edward C. Holmes. April 2020 181(2):223-227. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.03.035.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Superantigenic character of an insert unique to SARS-CoV-2 spike supported by skewed TCR repertoire in patients with hyperinflammation. Mary Hongying Cheng, She Zhang, Rebecca A. Porritt, Magali Noval Rivas, Lisa Paschold, Edith Willscher, Mascha Binder, Moshe Arditi, and Ivet Bahar. September 28, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2010722117

Current Biology. A novel bat coronavirus closely related to SARS-CoV-2 contains natural insertions at the S1/S2 cleavage site of the spike protein. Hong Zhou, Xing Chen, Tao Hu, Juan Li, Hao Song, Yanran Liu, Peihan Wang, Di Liu, Jing Yang, Edward C. Holmes, Alice C. Hughes, Yuhai Bi, and Weifeng Shi. June 8, 2020. 30: 2196-2203. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.05.023

aRxiv. The bat coronavirus RmYN02 is characterized by a 6-nucleotide deletion at the S1/S2 junction, and its claimed PAA insertion is highly doubtful. Yuri Deigin and Rossana Segreto. December 1, 2020.

bioRxiv. Furin cleavage site is key to SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis. Bryan A. Johnson,…Kari Debbink, Pei Yong Shi, Alexander Freiberg and Vineet Menachery. August 26, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.08.26.268854 

bioRxiv. The furin cleavage site of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is a key determinant for transmission due to enhanced replication in airway cells. Thomas Peacock, Daniel H. Goldhill, Jie Zhou,…and Wendy S. Barclay. September 30, 2020. doi. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.09.30.318311 

Zenodo. Unusual features of the SARS-CoV-2 genome suggesting sophisticated laboratory modification rather than natural evolution and delineation of its probable synthetic route. Li-Meng Yan, Shu Kang, Jie Guan, and Shanchang Hu. September 14, 2020. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.4028829  

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. In Response: Yan et al Preprint Examinations of the Origin of SARS-CoV-2. Kelsey Lane Warmbrod, Rachel M. West, Nancy D. Connell and Gigi Kwik Gronvall. September 21, 2020.

Zenodo. Proposed SARS-CoV-2 Spillover During 2019 Review of Samples from a Mineshaft in Mojiang, Yunnan Province, China. Anonymous. September 14, 2020. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.4029544

Investigative blog articles on the origins of SARS-CoV-2

Medium. Lab-made? SARS-CoV-2 genealogy through the lens of gain-of-function research. Yuri Deigin. April 22, 2020.

Medium. Fearsome viruses and where to find them. Moreno Colaiacovo. November 15, 2020.

Medium. Rushed data collection of suspected early Covid-19 cases in Wuhan. Gilles Demaneuf. October 15, 2020.

Chinese scientists sought to change name of deadly coronavirus to distance it from China

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In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of scientists affiliated with China’s government tried to distance the coronavirus from China by influencing its official naming. Nodding to the fact the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, the scientists said they feared the virus would become known as the “Wuhan coronavirus” or “Wuhan pneumonia,” emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know show.

The emails reveal an early front in the information war waged by the Chinese government to shape the narrative about the origins of the novel coronavirus.

The naming of the virus was “a matter of importance to the Chinese people” and references to the virus that cited Wuhan “stigmatize and insult” Wuhan residents, the correspondence from February 2020 states.

Specifically the Chinese scientists argued that the official technical name assigned to the virus – “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)”- was not only “hard to remember or recognize” but also “truly misleading” because it connected the new virus to the 2003 SARS-CoV outbreak that originated in China.

The virus was named by the Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Virus Taxonomy (ICTV).

Wuhan Institute of Virology senior scientist Zhengli Shi, who led the re-naming effort, described in an email to University of North Carolina virologist Ralph Baric, “a fierce discussion among Chinese virologists” over the name SARS-CoV-2.

Deyin Guo, former dean of Wuhan University’s School of Biomedical Sciences and co-author of the name-change proposal, wrote to CSG members that they had failed to consult their naming decision with “virologists including the first discovers [sic] of the virus and the first describers of the disease” from mainland China.

“It is not appropriate to use one disease-based virus’ name (like SARS-CoV) to name all other natural viruses that belong to the same species but have very different properties,” he wrote in the correspondence sent on behalf of himself and five other Chinese scientists.

The group proposed an alternative name – “Transmissible acute respiratory coronavirus (TARS-CoV). Another option, they said, could be “Human acute respiratory coronavirus (HARS-CoV).”

The email thread detailing a suggested name change was written to CSG Chair John Ziebuhr.

The correspondence shows that Ziebuhr disagreed with the Chinese group’s logic. He replied that “the name SARS-CoV-2 links this virus to other viruses (called SARS-CoVs or SARSr-CoVs) in this species including the prototype virus of the species rather than to the disease that once inspired the naming of this prototype virus nearly 20 years ago. The suffix -2 is used as a unique identifier and indicates that SARS-Co V-2 is yet ANOTHER (but closely related) virus in this species.”

China’s state-owned media firm CGTN reported another effort in March 2020 by Chinese virologists to re-name SARS-CoV-2 as human coronavirus 2019 (HCoV-19), which also didn’t pass muster with the CSG.

Naming an epidemic-causing virus—a responsibility of the World Health Organization (WHO) — has often been a politically charged exercise in taxonomic classification.

In a prior outbreak of the H5N1 flu virus that arose in China, the Chinese government pushed the WHO into creating nomenclature that would not tie virus names to their histories or locations of origin.

For more information

University of North Carolina Professor Ralph Baric’s emails, which U.S. Right to Know obtained through a public records request, can be found here: Baric emails batch #2: University of North Carolina (332 pages)

U.S. Right to Know is posting documents from our public records requests for our biohazards investigation. See: FOI documents on origins of SARS-CoV-2, hazards of gain-of-function research and biosafety labs.

Background page on U.S. Right to Know’s investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

Emails show scientists discussed masking their involvement in key journal letter on Covid origins

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EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak, the head of an organization involved in research that genetically manipulates coronaviruses, discussed hiding his role in a statement published last year in The Lancet that condemned as “conspiracy theories” concerns that the COVID-19 virus may have originated in a research lab, emails obtained by US Right to Know show.

The Lancet statement, signed by 27 prominent scientists, has been influential in tamping down suspicions by some scientists that COVID-19 could have ties to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has a research affiliation to the EcoHealth Alliance.

Daszak drafted the statement and circulated it to other scientists to sign. But the emails reveal that Daszak and two other EcoHealth-affiliated scientists thought they should not sign the statement so as to mask their involvement in it. Leaving their names off the statement would give it “some distance from us and therefore doesn’t work in a counterproductive way,” Daszak wrote.

Daszak noted that he could “send it round” to other scientists to sign. “We’ll then put it out in a way that doesn’t link it back to our collaboration so we maximize an independent voice,” he wrote.

The two scientists Daszak wrote to about the need to make the paper appear independent of EcoHealth, are coronavirus experts Ralph Baric and Linfa Wang.

In the emails, Baric agreed with Daszak’s suggestion not to sign The Lancet statement, writing “Otherwise it looks self-serving, and we lose impact.”

Daszak did ultimately sign the statement himself, but he was not identified as its lead author or coordinator of the effort.

The emails are part of a tranche of documents obtained by US Right to Know that show Daszak has been working since at least early last year to undermine the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute.

The first reported outbreak of COVID-19 was in the city of Wuhan.

U.S. Right to Know previously reported that Daszak drafted the statement for The Lancet, and orchestrated it to “not be identifiable as coming from any one organization or person” but rather to be seen as “simply a letter from leading scientists”.

EcoHealth Alliance is a New York-based nonprofit that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding to genetically manipulate coronaviruses, including with scientists at the Wuhan Institute.

Notably, Daszak has emerged as a central figure in official investigations of  SARS-CoV-2’s origins. He is a member of the World Health Organization‘s team of experts tracing the novel coronavirus’s origins, and The Lancet COVID 19 Commission.

See our previous reporting on this topic: 

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Colorado State University documents on bat pathogen research

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This post describes documents of Colorado State University (CSU) Professors Rebekah Kading and Tony Schountz, which U.S. Right to Know obtained from a public records request. Kading and Schountz are virologists who study bat-associated pathogens in hot-spots across the world. They collaborate with EcoHealth Alliance, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. military’s research and development arm.

The documents offer a glimpse into the military-academic complex of scientists who study how to prevent spillovers of potential pandemic pathogens from bats. The documents raise questions about contagion risks, for example, of shipping of bats and rats infected with dangerous pathogens. They also contain other noteworthy items, including:

  1. In February 2017, DoD coordinators of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Cooperative Biological Engagement Program announced a new global bat alliance “to build and leverage country and regional capabilities to generate an enhanced understanding of bats and their ecology within the context of pathogens of security concern.” Associated with this, the emails show a collaboration between CSU, EcoHealth Alliance and the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories to build a bat research site at CSU to expand bat infection studies.
  2. The global bat alliance evolved into a group called Bat One Health Research Network (BOHRN). By 2018, key BOHRN scientists were working with DARPA on a project called PREEMPT. CSU records on PREEMPT show that Rocky Mountain Laboratories, CSU and Montana State University are developing “scalable vectored” vaccines to spread through bat populations “to prevent emergence and spillover” of potential pandemic viruses from bats to human populations. Their goal is to develop “self-disseminating vaccines” — which spread contagiously between bats — in hopes of eliminating pathogens in their animal reservoirs before spillover into humans. This research raises concerns about unintended consequences of releasing genetically engineered self-spreading entities into the open, and the ecological risks of their unknown evolution, virulence and spread.
  3. Shipping bats and rats infected with dangerous pathogens creates the potential for unintended spillover into humans. Tony Schountz wrote to EcoHealth Alliance VP Jonathan Epstein on March 30, 2020: “RML [Rocky Mountain Labs] imported the Lassa virus reservoir by having them born in captivity in Africa, then the offspring were imported directly to RML. Don’t know if horseshoe bats can be born in captivity, but that could be an avenue to alleviate CDC concerns.” Lassa virus is spread by rats that are endemic to west Africa. It causes an acute illness called Lassa fever in humans, which leads to an estimated 5,000 deaths every year (1% death rate).
  4. On February 10, 2020, EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak sent an email soliciting signatories for a draft of The Lancet statement “to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that 2019-nCoV does not have a natural origin.” In the email, Daszak wrote: “Drs. Linda Saif, Jim Hughes, Rita Colwell, William Karesh and Hume Field have drafted a simple statement of support for scientists, public health and medical professionals of China fighting this outbreak (attached), and we invite you to join us as the first signatories.” He did not mention his own involvement in drafting the statement.  Our prior reporting showed that Daszak drafted the statement that was published in The Lancet.
  5. Tony Schountz exchanged emails with key Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) scientists Peng Zhou, Zhengli Shi and Ben Hu. In an email dated October 30, 2018, Schountz proposed to Zhengli Shi a “loose association” between CSU’s Arthropod-borne and Infectious Disease Laboratory and WIV, involving “collaboration on relevant projects (e.g., arboviruses and bat-borne viruses) and training of students.” Zhengli Shi responded positively to Schountz’s suggestion. The records do not suggest that any such collaboration was initiated.

For more information

A link to the entire batch of Colorado State University documents can be found here: CSU records

U.S. Right to Know is posting documents obtained through public freedom of information (FOI) requests for our Biohazards investigation in our post: FOI documents on origins of SARS-CoV-2, hazards of gain-of-function research and biosafety labs.

How safe are the biolabs at Colorado State?

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draft funding proposal for the construction of a new biolab at Colorado State University raises questions about safety and security at its existing biolabs in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The draft proposal seeks funding from the National Institutes of Health to replace “aging” infrastructure within CSU’s Center for Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, formerly known as the Arthropod-borne and Infectious Disease Laboratory (AIDL). The center rears insect and bat colonies for infectious disease experiments with dangerous pathogens such as SARS, Zika, Nipah and Hendra viruses. Live-pathogen experiments there are performed in part in BSL-3 facilities, which are air-tight laboratories with special technologies to prevent researchers from getting infected and spreading infections.

The proposal’s authors (Tony Schountz and Greg Ebel from CSU and Jonathan Epstein, a vice president at EcoHealth Alliance) write that, “several of our buildings are well past their useful lives.” They attach pictures of accumulating mold and mildew as proof of “rapidly degrading” facilities that “leak when it rains.”

The proposal also explains that the lab’s existing design requires cell samples of infected bats and insects to “be transported to different buildings prior to use.” It states that the existing autoclaves, which sterilize biohazardous materials, “frequently malfunction and there is a legitimate concern they will continue to do so.”

It is possible the troubles are overstated because they support a funding request. Here is an excerpt from the funding proposal with the images.

The proposal raises several questions: Are human lives at risk from AIDL’s faulty equipment and infrastructure? Does this decrepitude increase the likelihood of an accidental leak of dangerous pathogens? Are there other EcoHealth Alliance-affiliated facilities around the world that are similarly degraded and unsafe?  Were the conditions similarly unsafe, for example, the EcoHealth Alliance-funded Wuhan Institute of Virology? That institute has been identified as a possible source of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Records of CSU’s institutional biosafety committee (IBC), obtained via public records request, seem to reinforce concerns about safety of CSU biolabs. For example, meeting minutes from May 2020 indicate that a CSU researcher acquired Zika virus infection and symptoms after manipulating experimentally infected mosquitoes. The IBC noted: “Most likely this was a mosquito bite that went undetected during a chaotic time due to COVID-19 shut downs and changes.”

Ironically, increased infectious disease research on SARS-CoV-2 may have heightened the risk of biosafety lapses and mishaps at CSU. The IBC minutes express support for “concerns raised regarding the large number of research projects involving SARS-CoV-2 which has put strains on resources such as PPE, lab space, and personnel.”

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USRTK asks ODNI to declassify documents about accidents at labs that store dangerous pathogens

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U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to declassify three documents about biosafety lapses occurring in laboratories that store dangerous pathogens.

The mandatory declassification review (MDR) request responds to ODNI’s decision to withhold three classified documents responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request USRTK submitted in August 2020.

The FOIA request “sought finished intelligence produced since January 2015 about the accidental or deliberate release of biological agents, containment failures in biosafety-level (BSL)-2, BSL-3 or BSL-4 research facilities, and other incidents of concern related to dual-use biosafety research in BSL-2, BSL-3 or BSL-4 research facilities in Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, the Netherlands, Russia, former countries of the Soviet Union, South Africa, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Thailand.”

ODNI said in its response that it had located three documents, and determined these “must be withheld in their entirety pursuant to FOIA exemptions” regarding the protection of classified materials concerning intelligence methods and sources of national security relevance. ODNI did not describe or characterize the nature of the three documents or their contents, other than that they were responsive to the FOIA request.

In its MDR request, USRTK requested that ODNI release all reasonably segregable nonexempt portions of the three documents.

USRTK believes the public has a right to know what data exists about accidents, leaks and other mishaps at laboratories where pathogens of pandemic potential are stored and modified, and whether any such leaks are implicated in the origins of COVID-19, which has caused the deaths of more than 360,000 Americans.

For more information

U.S. Right to Know is posting documents from our public records requests for our biohazards investigation. See: FOI documents on origins of SARS-CoV-2, hazards of gain-of-function research and biosafety labs.

Background page on U.S. Right to Know’s investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

Altered datasets raise more questions about reliability of key studies on coronavirus origins

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Revisions to genomic datasets associated with four key studies on coronavirus origins add further questions about the reliability of these studies, which provide foundational support for the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 originated in wildlife. The studies, Peng Zhou et al., Hong Zhou et al., Lam et al., and Xiao et al., discovered SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in horseshoe bats and Malayan pangolins.

The studies’ authors deposited DNA sequence data called sequence reads, which they used to assemble bat- and pangolin-coronavirus genomes, in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) sequence read archive (SRA). NCBI established the public database to assist independent verification of genomic analyses based on high-throughput sequencing technologies.

U.S. Right to Know obtained documents by a public records request that show revisions to these studies’ SRA data months after they were published. These revisions are odd because they occurred after publication, and without any rationale, explanation or validation.

For example, Peng Zhou et al. and Lam et al. updated their SRA data on the same two dates. The documents don’t explain why they altered their data, only that some changes were made. Xiao et al. made numerous changes to their SRA data, including the deletion of two datasets on March 10, the addition of a new dataset on June 19, a November 8 replacement of data first released on October 30, and a further data change on November 13 — two days after Nature added an Editor’s “note of concern” about the study. Hong Zhou et al. have yet to share the full SRA dataset that would enable independent verification. While journals like Nature require authors to make all data “promptly available” at the time of publication, SRA data can be released after publication; but it is unusual to make such changes months after publication.

These unusual alterations of SRA data do not automatically make the four studies and their associated datasets unreliable. However, the delays, gaps and changes in SRA data have hampered independent assembly and verification of the published genome sequences, and add to questions and concerns about the validity of the four studies, such as:

  1. What were the exact post-publication revisions to the SRA data? Why were they made? How did they affect the associated genomic analyses and results?
  2. Were these SRA revisions independently validated? If so, how? The NCBI’s only validation criterion for publishing an SRA BioProject– beyond basic information such as “organism name”– is that it cannot be a duplicate.

For more information

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) documents can be found here: NCBI emails (63 pages)

U.S. Right to Know is posting documents from our public records requests for our biohazards investigation. See: FOI documents on origins of SARS-CoV-2, hazards of gain-of-function research and biosafety labs.

Background page on U.S. Right to Know’s investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

No peer review for addendum to prominent coronavirus origins study?

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The journal Nature did not assess the reliability of important claims made in a November 17 addendum to a study on the bat-origins of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, correspondence with Nature staff suggests.

On February 3, 2020, Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists reported discovering the closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2, a bat coronavirus called RaTG13. RaTG13 has become central to the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 originated in wildlife.

The addendum addresses unanswered questions about the provenance of RaTG13. The authors, Zhou et al., clarified they found RaTG13 in 2012-2013 “in an abandoned mineshaft in Mojiang County, Yunnan Province,” where six miners suffered acute respiratory distress syndrome after exposure to bat feces, and three died. Investigations of the symptoms of the sickened miners could provide important clues about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Zhou et al. reported finding no SARS-related coronaviruses in stored serum samples of the sick miners, but they did not support their claims with data and methods about their assays and experimental controls.

The absence of key data in the addendum has raised further questions about the reliability of the Zhou et al. study. On November 27, U.S. Right to Know asked Nature questions about the addendum’s claims, and requested that Nature publish all supporting data that Zhou et al. may have provided.

On December 2, Nature Head of Communications Bex Walton replied that the original Zhou et al.  study was “accurate but unclear,” and that the addendum was an appropriate post-publication platform for clarification. She added: “With regards to your questions, we would direct you to approach the authors of the paper for answers, as these questions pertain not to the research that we have published but to other research undertaken by the authors, upon which we cannot comment” (emphasis ours). Since our questions related to research described in the addendum, the Nature representative’s statement suggests Zhou et al.’s addendum was not evaluated as research.

We asked a follow up question on December 2: “was this addendum subjected to any peer-review and/or editorial oversight by Nature?” Ms. Walton did not answer directly; she replied: “In general, our editors will assess comments or concerns that are raised with us in the first instance, consulting the authors, and seeking advice from peer reviewers and other external experts if we consider it necessary. Our confidentiality policy means we cannot comment on the specific handling of individual cases.”

Since Nature considers an addendum to be a post-publication update, and does not subject such post publication addenda to the same peer-review standards as original publications, it seems likely that the Zhou et al. addendum did not undergo peer-review.

Authors Zhengli Shi and Peng Zhou did not respond to our questions about their Nature addendum.

New emails show scientists’ deliberations on how to discuss SARS-CoV-2 origins 

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Newly obtained emails offer glimpses into how a narrative of certainty developed about the natural origins of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, while key scientific questions remained. The internal discussions and an early draft of a scientists’ letter show experts discussing gaps in knowledge and unanswered questions about lab origin, even as some sought to tamp down on “fringe” theories about the possibility the virus came from a lab.

Influential scientists and many news outlets have described the evidence as “overwhelming” that the virus originated in wildlife, not from a lab. However, a year after the first reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, little is known how or where the virus originated. Understanding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, may be crucial to preventing the next pandemic.

The emails of coronavirus expert Professor Ralph Baric — obtained through a public records request by U.S. Right to Know — show conversations between National Academy of Sciences (NAS) representatives, and experts in biosecurity and infectious diseases from U.S. universities and the EcoHealth Alliance.

On Feb. 3, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to “convene meeting of experts… to assess what data, information and samples are needed to address the unknowns, in order to understand the evolutionary origins of 2019-nCoV, and more effectively respond to both the outbreak and any resulting misinformation.”

Baric and other infectious disease experts were involved in drafting the response. The emails show the experts’ internal discussions and an early draft dated Feb. 4.

The early draft described “initial views of the experts” that “the available genomic data are consistent with natural evolution and that there is currently no evidence that the virus was engineered to spread more quickly among humans.” This draft sentence posed a question, in parentheses: “[ask experts to add specifics re binding sites?]” It also included a footnote in parentheses: “[possibly add brief explanation that this does not preclude an unintentional release from a laboratory studying the evolution of related coronaviruses].”

In one email, dated Feb. 4, infectious disease expert Trevor Bedford commented: “I wouldn’t mention binding sites here. If you start weighing evidence there’s a lot to consider for both scenarios.” By “both scenarios,” Bedford appears to refer to lab-origin and natural-origin scenarios.

The question of binding sites is important to the debate about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Distinctive binding sites on SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein confer “near-optimal” binding and entry of the virus into human cells, and make SARS-CoV-2 more contagious than SARS-CoV. Scientists have argued that SARS-CoV-2’s unique binding sites could have originated either as a result of natural spillover in the wild or deliberate laboratory recombination of an as-yet-undisclosed natural ancestor of SARS-CoV-2.

The final letter published Feb. 6 did not mention binding sites or the possibility of a laboratory origin. It does make clear that more information is necessary to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The letter states, “The experts informed us that additional genomic sequence data from geographically – and temporally – diverse viral samples are needed to determine the origin and evolution of the virus. Samples collected as early as possible in the outbreak in Wuhan and samples from wildlife would be particularly valuable.”

The emails show some experts discussing the need for clear language to counter what one described as “crackpot theories” of lab origin. Kristian Andersen, lead author of an influential Nature Medicine paper asserting a natural origin of SARS-CoV-2, said the early draft was “great, but I do wonder if we need to be more firm on the question of engineering.” He continued, “If one of the main purposes of this document is to counter those fringe theories, I think it’s very important that we do so strongly and in plain language…”

In his response, Baric aimed at conveying a scientific basis for SARS-CoV-2’s natural origin. “I do think we need to say that the closest relative to this virus (96%) was identified from bats circulating in a cave in Yunnan, China. This makes a strong statement for animal origin.”

The final letter from the NASEM presidents does not take a position on the virus origin. It states that, “Research studies to better understand the origin of 2019-nCoV and how it relates to viruses found in bats and other species are already underway. The closest known relative of 2019-nCoV appears to be a coronavirus identified from bat-derived samples collected in China.” The letter referenced two studies that were conducted by EcoHealth Alliance and Wuhan Institute of Virology. Both posit a natural origin for SARS-CoV-2.

A few weeks later, the NASEM presidents’ letter appeared as an authoritative source for an influential scientists’ statement published in The Lancet that conveyed far more certainty about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. USRTK previously reported that EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak drafted that statement, which asserted that “scientists from multiple countries…overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” This position, the statement notes, is “further supported by a letter from the presidents of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.”

The subsequent appointments of Peter Daszak and other EcoHealth Alliance allies to The Lancet COVID19 Commission and Daszak to the World Health Organization’s investigations of SARS-CoV-2’s origins means the credibility of these efforts are undermined by conflicts of interest, and by the appearance that they have already pre-judged the matter at hand.

——–

“issues we should probably avoid”

The Baric emails also show a NAS representative suggesting to U.S. scientists they should “probably avoid” questions about SARS-CoV-2’s origin in bilateral meetings they were planning with Chinese COVID-19 experts. The emails in May and June 2020 discussed plans for the meetings. Participating American scientists, many of whom are members of the NAS Standing Committee on emerging infectious diseases and 21st-century health threats, included Ralph Baric, Peter Daszak, David Franz, James Le Duc, Stanley Perlman, David Relman, Linda Saif, and Peiyong Shi.

The participating Chinese scientists included George Gao, Zhengli Shi, and Zhiming Yuan. George Gao is Director of China CDC. Zhengli Shi leads the coronavirus research at Wuhan Institute of Virology, and Zhiming Yuan is Director of WIV.

In an email to American participants about a planning session, NAS Senior Program Officer Benjamin Rusek described the purpose of the meeting: “to fill you in on the dialogue background, discuss the topics/questions (list in your invitation letter and attached) and issues we should probably avoid (origin questions, politics)…”

For more information

Link to University of North Carolina Professor Ralph Baric’s emails can be found here: Baric emails (83,416 pages)

U.S. Right to Know is posting documents from our public records requests for our biohazards investigation. See: FOI documents on origins of SARS-CoV-2, hazards of gain-of-function research and biosafety labs.