Key articles on origins of Covid-19, gain-of-function research and biolabs

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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. For more information about the U.S. Right to Know investigation into these topics, see our biohazards page. Please sign up for our newsletter for updates.

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

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. Alex C. Speciale. July 13, 2021.

MediumA response to “The Origins of SARS-CoV-2: A Critical Review. Alina Chan. July 12, 2021.

New York Times. A Group of Scientists Presses a Case Against the Lab Leak Theory of Covid. Carl Zimmer and James Gorman.  July 9, 2021.

BMJThe covid-19 lab leak hypothesis: did the media fall victim to a misinformation campaign? Paul Thacker.  July 8, 2021.

BMJCovid 19: We need a full open independent investigation into its origins.  Fiona Godlee.  July 8, 2021.

The Hill. An economist’s perspective on ‘gain-of-function’ virus research. Scott Sumner. July 8, 2021.

Lancet. Science, not speculation, is essential to determine how SARS-CoV-2 reached humans. Charles Calisher et al. July 5, 2021.

What are the origins of SARS-CoV-2?

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan? Nicholas Wade. May 5, 2021.

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.

New York Times. Where Did the Coronavirus Come From? What We Already Know Is Troubling. Zeynep Tufekci. June 25, 2021.

Medium. How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory. Donald G. McNeil Jr. May 17, 2021.

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.

Vanity Fair. The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins. Katherine Eban. June 3, 2021.

Wall Street Journal. Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate On Covid-19 Origin. Michael Gordon, Warren Strobel and Drew Hinshaw. May 23, 2021.

USA Today. Could an accident have caused COVID-19? Why the Wuhan lab-leak theory shouldn’t be dismissed. Alison Young. March 22, 2021.

Science. Investigate the Origins of COVID-19. Jesse Bloom et al. May 14, 2021. DOI: 10.1126/science.abj0016

Politico. In 2018, Diplomats Warned of Risky Coronavirus Experiments in a Wuhan Lab. No One Listened. Josh Rogin. March 8, 2021.

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

MIT Technology Review. Inside the risky bat-virus engineering that links America to Wuhan. Rowan Jacobsen. June 29, 2021.

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

Wall Street Journal. The Science Suggests a Wuhan Lab Leak. Steven Quay and Richard Muller. June 6, 2021.

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

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

Washington Post. Opinion: The Biden administration confirms some but not all of Trump’s Wuhan lab claims. Josh Rogin. March 9, 2021.

Wall Street Journal. The Wuhan Lab Leak Question: A Disused Chinese Mine Takes Center Stage. Jeremy Page, Betsy McKay and Drew Hinshaw. May 24, 2021.

Washington Post. A scientist adventurer and China’s ‘Bat Woman’ are under scrutiny as coronavirus lab-leak theory gets another look. Eva Duo and Lily Kuo. June 3, 2021.

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

Letter from U.S. Senators Johnson, Paul, Lankford, Scott and Cotton to NIH Director Francis Collins seeking information about the NIH’s actions on gain of function research. May 20, 2021.

Wall Street Journal. Fauci Email Bolsters the Lab-Leak Theory. Nicholas Wade. June 4, 2021.

Poynter. What we can learn from the media’s dismissal of the Wuhan lab theory. Alan Miller. June 17, 2021.

Current Affairs. The stakes of finding COVID-19’s origins. Nathan J. Robinson. May 19, 2021.

Washington Post. Timeline: How the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible. Glenn Kessler. May 25, 2021.

Wall Street Journal. Chinese Covid-19 Gene Data That Could Have Aided Pandemic Research Removed From NIH Database. Amy Markus, Betsy McKay and Drew Hinshaw. June 23, 2021.

U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, minority staff letters to: (1) Secretary of State Antony Blinken seeking the release of unclassified documents related to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, May 6, 2021. (2) EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak seeking information and documents related to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, April 16, 2021. (3) NIH Director Francis Collins seeking to advance an independent, scientific investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, March 18, 2021.

Open Letters: (1) Call for a Comprehensive Investigation of the Origin of SARS-CoV-2. June 28, 2021. (2) To the World Health Organization and the Members of its Executive Board. April 30, 2021. (3) Call for full investigation into the origins of Covid-19. April 7, 2021. (4) Call for a Full and Unrestricted International Forensic Investigation into the Origins of COVID-19. March 4, 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.

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

Washington Post. Opinion: The WHO covid report is fatally flawed, and a real investigation has yet to take place. Josh Rogin. March 29, 2021.

Washington Post. Opinion: The world still hasn’t figured out how to regulate research into deadly viruses. Brian Klaas. March 11, 2021.

Medium. Response of Dr. Kristian G. Andersen to questions relating to his email to Dr. Fauci recently released under FOIA. Yuri Deigin. June 3, 2021.

New York Times. Scientist Opens Up About His Early Email to Fauci on Virus Origins. James Gorman and Carl Zimmer. June 14, 2021.

New York Times. China’s ‘Bat Woman,’ at the Center of a Pandemic Storm, Speaks Out. Amy Qin and Chris Buckley. June 14, 2021.

Undark. Lab Leak: A Scientific Debate Mired in Politics– and Unresolved. Charles Schmidt. March 17, 2021.

CBS. What happened in Wuhan? Why questions still linger on the origin of the coronavirus. Lesley Stahl. March 28, 2021.

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. 

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

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.

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

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

Newsweek. Humans, Not Animals, Likely Took the COVID Virus to Wuhan, Contrary to China’s Claims. Rowan Jacobsen. March 25, 2021.

USA Today. ‘I remember it very well’: Dr. Fauci describes a secret 2020 meeting to talk about COVID origins. Alison Young. June 17, 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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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. 

Independent Science News. A Chinese PhD Thesis Sheds Important New Light On The Origin of the COVID-19. Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson. May 11, 2021.

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.

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. 

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.

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

Financial Times. Scientists fear future leaks as top-level labs proliferate. Kiran Stacey, Helen Warrell, Yuan Yang. June 4, 2021.

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

Axios. Lab risks face scrutiny amid COVID origins controversy. Alison Snyder and Bryan Walsh. June 10, 2021.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Is there a role for the Biological Weapons Convention in oversight of lab-created potential pandemic pathogens? Lynn Klotz. August 27, 2019.

King’s College London. Mapping Maximum Biological Containment Labs Globally. Filipa Lentzos and Gregory Koblentz. May 2021.

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

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Who isn’t equipped for a pandemic or bioterror attack? The WHO. Annie Sparrow. June 20, 2016.

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. 

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The unacceptable risks of a man-made pandemic. Lynn Klotz and Edward Sylvester. August 7, 2012.

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

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

Nature Scientific Reports. In silico comparison of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein-ACE2 binding affinities across species and implications for virus origin. Sakshi Piplani, Puneet Kumar Singh, David A. Winkler, Nikolai Petrovsky. June 24, 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-92388-5

bioRxiv. Recovery of deleted deep sequencing data sheds more light on the early Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 epidemic. Jesse Bloom. June 22, 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.06.18.449051

In Vivo. On the Origin of SARS-CoV-2: Did Cell Culture Experiments Lead to Increased Virulence of the Progenitor Virus for Humans? Bernd Kaina. May 2021, 35 (3) 1313-1326; DOI: https://doi.org/10.21873/invivo.12384

Antiviral Research. The spike glycoprotein of the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV contains a furin-like cleavage site absent in CoV of the same clade. Bruno Coutard et al. February 10, 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2020.104742

Preprint.  The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus. Botao Xiao. February 2020. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.21799.29601

Infectious Diseases & Immunity. Origins of SARS-CoV-2: Focusing on Science. Zhengli Shi. April 2021 – Volume 1, Issue 1, p.3-4 doi: 10.1097/ID9.0000000000000008

Environmental Chemistry Letters. Should we discount the laboratory origin of COVID-19? Rossana Segreto, Yuri Deigin, Kevin McCairn, Alejandro Sousa, Dan Sirotkin, Karl Sirotkin, Jonathan J. Couey, Adrian Jones & Daoyu Zhang. March 25, 2021.

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.

Scientific Reports. Animal sales from Wuhan wet markets immediately prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Xiao Xiao et al. June 7, 2021. Sci Rep 11, 11898 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-91470-2

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

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

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.

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.

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

ResearchGate. An investigation into the WIV databases that were taken offline. Billy Bostickson et al. February 2021.

ResearchGate. Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Co. Rodolphe de Maistre, Gilles Demaneuf and Billy Bostickson. March 2021.

Zenodo.  1. Proposed Forensic Investigation of Wuhan Laboratories. Billy Bostickson and Yvette Ghannam. March 2021. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.4640383

ResearchGate. 2. Investigation of RaTG13 and the 7896 Clade. Billy Bostickson and Yvette Ghannam. March 2021. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.22382.33607

ResearchGate. 3. Wuhan Laboratories, Bat Research and Biosafety. Billy Bostickson and Yvette Ghannam. April 2021. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.32006.29761

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.

Wuhan lab director ordered staff not to discuss Covid-19, State Department cable says, citing blogger

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The director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) ordered staff in January 2020 to “not discuss COVID-19,” according to a Guangzhou-based blogger’s social media post that is cited in a February 2020 U.S. State Department cable obtained by U.S. Right to Know. The WIV is at the center of debate surrounding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The cable, which states that the blogger’s post “has since been blocked on social media,” adds to reports of Chinese government gag orders surrounding information about Covid-19, including revelations that  Chinese Centers for Disease Control staff have been instructed not to share any information related to the new coronavirus with outside institutions or individuals.

The cable was among State Department records released in response to a U.S. Right to Know Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Other items in the records include:

  • A February 2020 cable reported that the U.S. Consulate’s South China Public Affairs Section (PAS) “media contacts discussed the rumors circulating on social media that a graduate of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is patient zero of COVID-19, which has been denied by the Institute.” Media reports say the Wuhan Institute of Virology has denied links between WIV and patient zero, but the Biden administration has confirmed prior State Department’s claims that “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019… with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
  • A March 2020 cable analyzed the Chinese government and affiliated media’s messaging on Covid-19.
  • Cables from August and October 2020 show the quasi-governmental role played by EcoHealth Alliance in Malaysia as an “implementing partner” of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s PREDICT program. EcoHealth Alliance is a New York-based nonprofit that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding for projects, which include genetically  manipulating coronaviruses with scientists at WIV.

For more information

U.S. State Department records, which U.S. Right to Know obtained through ongoing FOIA litigation, can be found here: State Department Batch #4 (129 pages)

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

Three State Department Cables

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On May 24, 2021, the U.S. State Department released more records in response to our FOIA lawsuit. These may be of interest:

  1. “PRC claims of COVID transmission via cold chain food imports growing”: A November 18, 2020 State Department cable expressed skepticism of Chinese state media claims that SARS-CoV-2 was transmitted via imported cold chain food. These claims were used to raise doubts on a Wuhan origin for the novel coronavirus.
  2. “China’s interest in the Global Virome Project presents an opportunity for global health cooperation”: A September 28, 2017 State Department cable conveyed the Chinese government’s interest in collaborating with the U.S. government on the Global Virome Project (GVP) — an ambitious effort to map the global diversity of potential pandemic pathogens. The GVP is a successor of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s PREDICT project. PREDICT supported scientists from WIV and the U.S. nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance to gather bat coronaviruses from a mineshaft in Yunnan, China, including RaTG13 — SARS-CoV-2’s closest-known relative to date. In 2012, six miners who entered this mineshaft fell sick with Covid-like pneumonia of unknown origin, with three eventually dying.
  3. “Wuhan Institute of Virology cancels meeting”: A December 2017 State Department cable, titled “A Most Inconvenient Year: Central China’s Interference in U.S. Activities in 2017,” reported that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) canceled a meeting with diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan. The meeting was reportedly intended to set the stage for the U.S. Consul General’s official visit to WIV’s maximum-security BSL-4 laboratory. In 2018, the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan repeatedly warned of safety issues and risky bat coronavirus research at WIV.

For more information:

U.S. State Department records, which U.S. Right to Know obtained via FOIA litigation are here: State Department Batch #3 (114 pages)

Also see: State Department Batch #2 (37 pages) and State Department Batch #1 (92 pages)

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

Chinese-linked journal editor sought help to rebut Covid-19 lab origin hypothesis

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The editor-in-chief of a scientific journal with ties to China commissioned a commentary to refute the hypothesis that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

The commentary reinforced a scientific narrative of certainty about natural origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, just a few weeks after the first reported outbreak in Wuhan, China.

The journal’s acceptance of the commentary for publication within 12 hours of its submission suggests a superficial peer-review process by a scientific publication to make a political point.

The commentary, written by U.S. virologists, was published around the same time as scientific reports and a statement from 27 scientists published in different journals that all asserted the new coronavirus had a natural origin.

The revelation that the editor-in-chief, Shan Lu of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, solicited the commentary for the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections (EMI) raises questions about whether there was coordination between political and scientific interests aligned with the Chinese government’s position on this highly controversial issue.

The journal’s editing is handled by Shanghai Shangyixun Cultural Communication Co. in China, in coordination with publisher Taylor & Francis, which is based in England. Several of the journal’s editors and board members are based in China, including some affiliated with the Chinese government.

EMI Board members Shibo Jiang at Fudan University School of Medicine and Yuelong Shu at Sun-Yat Sen University were among the group of Chinese scientists who sought to change the name of the new coronavirus to distance it from China; Dong Xiaoping is a governmental official at the Chinese Centers for Disease Control, who was the number two expert on the Chinese side of the February 2020 joint mission with the World Health Organization to elucidate the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

The February 2020 commentary is titled “No credible evidence supporting claims of the laboratory engineering of SARS-CoV-2,” and was authored by virologists Shan-Lu Liu and Linda Saif of Ohio State University; Susan Weiss of the University of Pennsylvania; and Lishan Su, who at the time was affiliated with the University of North Carolina. The authors argued in their article against the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a lab leak of a bat coronavirus named RaTG13 that was housed within China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

The WIV is the world’s foremost coronavirus research facility and is located just a few miles from the site of the first reported outbreak in Wuhan, China. The authors also dismissed concerns that genetic alterations to SARS-related viruses created by WIV scientists in collaboration with a University of North Carolina laboratory could have been the source for SARS-CoV-2.

To date, WIV scientists and Chinese governmental authorities have not given independent scientists access to the WIV’s database of bat coronaviruses.

Speedy acceptance

In one February 11, 2020 email, Liu invited Saif to be co-author on an “almost complete” draft of “a commentary on the possible origin of the 2019-nCoV or SARSCoV-2 in order to dispute some rumors.” Liu said in the email that he had written the commentary with Su at the invitation of the editor-in-chief of Emerging Microbes & Infections.

Saif agreed to join, stating: “I edited this version and added my name as I too feel strongly about denouncing this.”

Saif separately was a signatory to the statement published in The Lancet that emails show was orchestrated by EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak.  EcoHealth Alliance is a non-profit group that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding to genetically manipulate viruses, including with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

On February 12, 2020, Liu also invited Professor Weiss to also be a co-author, and she immediately agreed.

Liu submitted the manuscript on the evening of February 12, and within 12 hours, the journal’s Shanghai-based editorial office accepted the paper, with one peer-reviewer noting: “This is a timely commentary. It is perfectly written… I suggest to publish it right away.”

In February 2020, EMI published two more commentaries, all of which were favorable to the Chinese government’s position on the origins of SARS-CoV-2:

  • a Feb 4 commentary titled “HIV-1 did not contribute to the 2019-nCoV genome” by U.S.-based Chinese scientists with affiliations to Chinese universities; and
  • a Feb 28 commentary titled “Is SARS-CoV-2 originated from laboratory? A rebuttal to the claim of formation via laboratory recombination,” by Shanghai-based scientists belonging to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Origins controversy continues 

The experts who authored the EMI commentary did not consider that WIV houses unpublished SARS-related bat coronaviruses, which could have served as a template for the lab origin of SARS-CoV-2, according to some scientists. To date, debate on the matter of the virus’s origins remains open, and there are growing calls to investigate natural as well as lab-origin scenarios.

Stanford Professor David Relman wrote in a PNAS article that arguments against deliberate engineering scenarios “fail to acknowledge the possibility that two or more as yet undisclosed ancestors (i.e., more proximal ancestors than RaTG13 and RmYN02) had already been discovered and were being studied in a laboratory—for example, one with the SARS-CoV-2 backbone and spike protein receptor-binding domain, and the other with the SARS-CoV-2 polybasic furin cleavage site. It would have been a logical next step to wonder about the properties of a recombinant virus and then create it in the laboratory.”

For more information

Ohio State University Professor Linda Saif’s emails, which U.S. Right to Know obtained through a public records request, can be found here: Saif emails batch #1: Ohio State University (303 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.

Why we are researching the origins of Covid-19, gain-of-function research and biolabs

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See our reporting on the origins of Covid-19 for updates on our investigation, and we are posting documents from our investigation here. Sign up here to receive weekly updates. 

In July 2020, U.S. Right to Know began submitting public records requests in pursuit of data from public institutions in an effort to discover what is known about the origins of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease Covid-19. Since the start of the outbreak in Wuhan, SARS-CoV-2 has killed over 3.38 million people, while sickening millions more in a global pandemic that continues to unfold.

We are also researching accidents, leaks and other mishaps at laboratories where pathogens of pandemic potential are stored and modified, and the public health risks of gain-of-function (GOF) research, which involves experiments to enhance aspects of the functionality of deadly pathogens, such as viral load, infectivity and transmissibility.

The public and global scientific community have a right to know what data exists about these matters.  We will report here any useful findings that may emerge from our research.

U.S. Right to Know is an investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health.

Why are we conducting this research?

We are concerned that the national security apparatuses of the United States, China and elsewhere, and the university, industry and governmental entities with which they collaborate, may not provide a full and honest picture of the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and the dangers of gain-of-function research.

Through our research, we seek to answer three questions:

  • What is known about the origins of SARS-CoV-2?
  • Are there accidents or mishaps that have occurred at biosafety or GOF research facilities that have not been reported?
  • Are there concerns about ongoing safety risks of biosafety laboratories or GOF research that have not been reported?

What are the origins of SARS-CoV-2?

In late December 2019, in the city of Wuhan, China, news emerged of the deadly infectious disease called COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, a novel coronavirus that had not been known to exist before. The origins of SARS-CoV-2 are not known. There are two main hypotheses.

Researchers in professional networks associated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S. non-profitthat has garnered millions of dollars from taxpayer-funded grants to collaborate with WIV on coronavirus research, have written that the novel virus likely originated via natural selection in animal hosts, with its reservoir in bats. This “zoonotic” origin hypothesis was further strengthened by claims that the new coronavirus outbreak started in a “wildlife” market in Wuhan, the Huanan seafood market, where potentially infected animals may have been sold. (However, at least one-third of the first cluster of infected patients, including the earliest known case of infection from December 1, 2019, had neither direct or indirect contact with the Huanan seafood market’s human and animal attendees.)

The zoonosis hypothesis is currently the prevailing hypothesis of origin. However, the zoonotic origin of SARS-CoV-2 has yet to be definitively established, and some researchers have pointed out that it rests upon contradictory observations that require further investigation.

For further reading on these topics, see our reading list: What are the origins of SARS-CoV-2? What are the risks of gain-of-function research?

Some scientists have suggested a different hypothesis of origin; they speculate that the SARS-CoV-2 is the result of an accidental release of a wild-type or lab-modified strain of a closely related SARS-like virus that had been stored in biosafety facilities conducting coronavirus research in Wuhan, such as the WIV or the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Importantly, a lab-origin scenario does not necessarily exclude the zoonosis hypothesis because SARS-CoV-2 could be the outcome of lab-modifications conducted on unreported versions of SARS-like bat coronaviruses stored in WIV, or merely collection and storage of such coronaviruses. Critics of lab-origin hypotheses have dismissed these ideas as unsubstantiated speculations and conspiracy theories.

To date, there is not sufficient evidence to definitively reject either zoonotic origin or lab-origin hypotheses. We do know, based on published research articles and U.S. federal grants to the EcoHealth Alliance for funding WIV’s coronavirus research, that WIV stored hundreds of potentially dangerous SARS-like coronaviruses, and performed GOF experiments on coronaviruses in collaboration with U.S. universities, and there were biosafety concerns with WIV’s BSL-4 laboratory.

But so far, there has been no independent audit of WIV’s laboratory records and databases, and little information exists about the WIV’s internal operations. The WIV has removed from its website information such as the 2018 visit of U.S. science diplomats, and closed off access to its virus database and laboratory records of the coronavirus experiments being conducted by WIV scientists.

Understanding the origins of SARS-CoV-2 has crucial policy implications for public health and food systems. SARS-CoV-2’s potential zoonotic origin raises questions about policies that promote the expansion of industrial farming and livestock operations, which can be major drivers of the emergence of novel and highly pathogenic viruses, deforestation, biodiversity loss and habitat encroachment. The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 may have emerged from a biodefense laboratory raises questions about whether we ought to have these facilities, where wild-derived microbial pathogens are stored and modified via GOF experiments.

SARS-CoV-2 origin investigations raise vital questions about transparency deficits regarding research on potential pandemic pathogens, and the imperatives and players that are creating increasingly widespread biosafety containment facilities where dangerous viruses are stored and modified to make them more deadly.

Is gain-of-function research worth the risk?

There is significant evidence that biosafety laboratories have had many accidents, breaches, and containment failures, and that the potential benefits of gain-of-function research may not be worth the risks of causing potential pandemics.

GOF research of concern modifies and tests dangerous pathogens such as Ebola, H1N1 influenza virus, and the SARS-related coronaviruses under the rubric of developing medical counter-measures (such as vaccines). As such, it is of interest not only to biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry but also to biodefense industry, which is concerned with the potential use of GOF research for acts of biowarfare.

GOF research on deadly pathogens is a major public health concern. Reports of accidental leaks and biosafety breaches at GOF research sites are not uncommon. After a distinguished group of virologists published an urgent consensus statement on July 14, 2014 calling for a moratorium on GOF research of concern, the U.S. government under President Barack Obama’s administration imposed a  “funding pause” on GOF experiments involving dangerous pathogens, including coronaviruses and influenza viruses.

The federal funding pause on GOF research of concern was lifted in 2017 after a period in which the U.S. government undertook a series of deliberations to assess the benefits and risks associated with studies involving GOF research of concern.

Seeking transparency

We are concerned that data that is crucial to public health policy about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, and the hazards of biosafety laboratories and gain-of-function research, may be hidden within biodefense networks of the national security apparatuses of the United States, China, and elsewhere.

We will try to shed some light on these matters through the use of public records requests. Perhaps we will succeed. We could easily fail. We will report anything useful that we may find.

Sainath Suryanarayanan, PhD, is staff scientist at U.S. Right to Know and co-author of the book, “Vanishing Bees: Science, Politics and Honeybee Health” (Rutgers University Press, 2017).

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: 

Sign up for our free newsletter to receive regular updates on our biohazards investigation. 

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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