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 Gary Ruskin at gary@usrtk.org.

Topics (drop links)

Most recent articles

Medium. The evidence for a natural vs lab origin of Covid-19. By Alina Chan, July 30, 2022.

Science. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. By Michael Worobey et al. July 26, 2022.

Science. The molecular epidemiology of multiple zoonotic origins of SARS-CoV-2. By Jonathan E. Pekar et al. July 26, 2022.

Forbes. The US Is Funding a Massive Virus Hunt That Might Cause Another Pandemic. Great Idea! By Steven Salzberg. July 5, 2022.

The Intercept. Infection of Wildlife Biologist Highlights Risks of Virus Hunting. By Sharon Lerner. July 2, 2022.

Associated Press. WHO: COVID origins unclear but lab leak theory needs study. By Maria Cheng and Jamey Keaten. June 9, 2022.

World Health Organization, Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO). Preliminary Report of the SAGO. June 9, 2022

Project Syndicate. Did US Biotechnology Help to Create COVID-19? By Neil L. Harrison and Jeffrey D. Sachs. May 27, 2022.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A call for an independent inquiry into the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. By Neil L. Harrison and Jeffrey D. Sachs. May 19, 2022.

Vox. Can we stop the next pandemic by seeking out deadly viruses in the wild? By Kelsey Piper. May 7, 2022.

Washington Post. As the pandemic exploded, a researcher saw the danger. China’s leaders kept silent. April 22, 2022.

Vanity Fair. “This Shouldn’t Happen”: Inside the Virus-Hunting Nonprofit at the Center of the Lab-Leak Controversy. By Kathleen Eban. March 31, 2022.

City Journal. Journalists, or PR Agents? Why science reporters don’t report fairly on the origins of Covid-19. By Nicholas Wade, March 20, 2022.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The origins of SARS-CoV-2: still to be determined. By Laura H. Kahn. March 10, 2022.

Science Insider. Spurred by pandemic, U.S. government will revisit federal policies on risky virus research. By Jocelyn Kaiser. March 1, 2022.

Nature
. Wuhan market was epicentre of pandemic’s start, studies suggest. By Amy Maxmen. February 27, 2022.

MIT Technology Review. Meet the scientist at the center of the covid lab leak controversy. By Jane Qiu. February 9, 2022.

City Journal.
A Covid Origin Conspiracy? By Nicholas Wade, January 23, 2022.

The Intercept.
The virus hunters: how pursuit of unknown viruses risks triggering the next pandemic. By Sharon Lerner. December 28, 2021.

London Review of Books. Lab Leaks. By Alex de Waal. December 2, 2021.

U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, minority letter to the National Academy of Medicine regarding EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak. November 30, 2021.

New York Times. You Should Be Afraid of the Next ‘Lab Leak.’ By Jon Gertner. November 23, 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.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. How COVID-19’s origins were obscured, by the East and the West. By Nicholas Wade. August 17, 2021.

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

The Intercept. Leaked Grant Proposal Details High-Risk Coronavirus Research. By Sharon Lerner and Maia Hibbett. September 23, 2021.

The Intercept. New Details Emerge About Coronavirus Research at Chinese Lab. By Sharon Lerner and Mara Hvistendahl. September 6, 2021.

The Intercept. NIH Documents Provide New Evidence U.S. Funded Gain-of-Function Research in Wuhan.  By Sharon Lerner, Mara Hvistendahl and Maia Hibbett. September 9, 2021.

The Intercept. EcoHealth Alliance conducted risky Experiments on MERS virus in China. By Sharon Lerner and Maia Hibbett. October 21, 2021.

The Intercept. NIH officials worked with EcoHealth Alliance to evade restrictions on coronavirus experiments. By Sharon Lerner and Mara Hvistendahl. November 3, 2021.

Medium. New Routes to Making Covid-19 in the Lab. By Nicholas Wade. September 23, 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.

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

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.

Stanford Magazine. Germ Theories: Lab leak? Animal transmission? Why David Relman and his colleagues told the world that we need to investigate both of COVID-19’s origin stories. By Deni Ellis Béchard. September 13, 2021.

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.

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.

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.

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

Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Declassified Assessment on COVID-19 Origins. October 29, 2021.

Wall Street Journal. Science Closes In on Covid’s Origins.  By Richard Muller and Steven Quay. October 5, 2021.

Science. Close cousins of SARS-CoV-2 found in a cave in Laos yield new clues about pandemic’s origins. By Jon Cohen. September 29, 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.

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

New York Times. Newly Discovered Bat Viruses Give Hints to Covid’s Origins. By Carl Zimmer. October 14, 2021.

The Lancet. An appeal for an objective, open, and transparent scientific debate about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. By Jacques van Helden et al. September 17, 2021.

U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, minority 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.

Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Declassified summary report on the origins of Covid-19. August 27, 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.

Science. Call of the Wild: Why many scientists say it’s unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a “lab leak.” By Jon Cohen.  September 2, 2021.

Science. Prophet in Purgatory: EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak is fighting accusations that his pandemic prevention work helped spark COVID-19. By Jon Cohen, November 17, 2021.

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

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

Science. Dissecting the early COVID-19 cases in Wuhan. By Michael Worobey. November 18, 2021.

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

U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, minority staff.  The Origins of COVID-19: An Investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. August 2, 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. 

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. 

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.

Wall Street Journal. How Easily Can a Virus Escape From a Lab? By Alina Chan and Matt Ridley.  November 11, 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. The grave risk of lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens. By Lynn C. Klotz, September 9, 2021.

ScienceFrance issues moratorium on prion research after fatal brain disease strikes two lab workers. Barbara Casassus, July 28, 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

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Creating dangerous viruses in the lab is a bad way to guard against future pandemics. By Laura H. Kahn.November 19, 2021.

Financial TimesGenetic engineering: why some fear the next pandemic could be lab-made. By Kiran Stacey and Izabella Kaminska, November 17, 2021.

Forbes. Leave The Bats Alone: It’s Long Past Time To Halt Gain-Of-Function Research On Deadly Viruses. By Steven Salzberg.  October 11, 2021.

Washington Post. Manipulating viruses and risking pandemics is too dangerous. It’s time to stop. By Kevin Esvelt. October 6, 2021.

Washington Post
A science in the shadows: Controls on ‘gain of function’ experiments with supercharged pathogens have been undercut despite concerns about lab leaks. By David Willman and Madison Muller. August 26, 2021.

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

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

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 Portfolio. Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in the environment and animal samples of the Huanan Seafood Market. By George Gao et al. February 25, 2022.

Zenodo. The Huanan market was the epicenter of SARS-CoV-2 emergence. By Michael Worobey et al. February 26, 2022.

Zenodo. SARS-CoV-2 emergence very likely resulted from at least two zoonotic events. By Jonathan Pekar et al. February 26, 2022.

Nature Portfolio. Coronaviruses with a SARS-CoV-2-like receptor-binding domain allowing ACE2-mediated entry into human cells isolated from bats of Indochinese peninsula. Sarah Temmam et al. September 17, 2021. Under review.

Nature. Origins of SARS-CoV-2: window is closing for key scientific studies. August 25, 2021.

Science. The animal origin of SARS-CoV-2. By Spyros Lytras, Wei Xia, Joseph Hughes, Xiaowei Jiang and David L. Robertson. August 17, 2021.

Cell. The Origins of SARS-CoV-2: A Critical Review (pre-proof). Edward C. Holmes et al. August 20, 2021.

mBio. Can Science Help Resolve the Controversy on the Origins of the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic? Arturo Arturo Casadevall, Susan R. Weiss and Michael Imperiale. August 2, 2021. 

Independent Science News. Phylogeographic Mapping of Newly Discovered Coronaviruses Pinpoints the Direct Progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 as Originating from Mojiang, China. Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson. August 2, 2021.

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.

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.

WHO chief Tedros: No dispositive evidence yet on COVID’s origin

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in an interview that he will “keep pushing” on a COVID-19 origins investigation. (Photo credit: United Nations)

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that there is no proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” for one COVID-19 origin hypothesis or the other in a brief interview with U.S. Right to Know.

In an interview in Washington on Thursday, Tedros was asked about recent preprint publications claiming “dispositive” evidence that COVID-19 originated from animals sold at a wet market. Tedros replied that all hypotheses are still in play.

“All options are open. We have not found any evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to drop any of the hypotheses that we have,” he said. “All of the hypotheses are still in [WHO’s investigation].”

The two prevailing hypotheses are that COVID-19 naturally spilled over from live animals sold at a wet market or emerged from an accident at one of the labs studying coronaviruses at the pandemic’s epicenter in Wuhan, China. 

Tedros also said that there is a “moral obligation” to keep investigating. 

“We continue to push. Of course we should know the origins. One, for the science. If we know the origin, we can prevent the next [pandemic]. So it’s a must,” Tedros said. “Second, morally, we owe it to the millions who have died and the hundreds of millions whose lives have been affected.”

“So we will not stop pushing,” he continued. 

Tedros was at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in DC for World Health Day. 

Tedros also confirmed that he had discussed investigating COVID-19’s origins with U.S. officials during his visit. 

Written by Emily Kopp 

Why did Wuhan lab director decline trip to Europe before Covid-19 outbreak?

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Early in November 2019, Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) Director Zhiming Yuan turned down a trip to Geneva for a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

The question is why?

Dr. Yuan’s email from November 6, 2019 came at a time when some of the first cases of Covid-19 may have begun to occur in Wuhan, China. Exactly when Covid-19 emerged is a contested issue – while some scientists argue that the earliest cases did not occur until early December, multiple intelligence, scientific and news reports suggest the first cases of Covid-19 may have emerged in Wuhan sometime between mid-late October and early November 2019.

Some scientists and news outlets have pointed to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a possible source of the Covid-19-causing virus, SARS-CoV-2.

Dr. Yuan’s email seems consistent with news reports that something important may have happened at the Wuhan institute in early November 2019, and perhaps for that reason he could not attend the WHO biocontainment meeting.

However, the email provides limited information, and its significance is unclear. It does not prove in any way that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was responsible for creating or releasing SARS-CoV-2.

WIV’s Dr. Yuan wrote his November 6 email in response to American biosecurity expert and WIV ally Dr. James LeDuc, wondering whether they would see each other at the following week’s WHO meeting in Geneva.

Dr. Yuan replied, “Sorry I can not go to WHO meeting at this time, and I hope to see you soon…”

When did the first Covid-19 case occur?

The Chinese government has tightly controlled and suppressed information sharing with the public and international bodies about Covid-19, its origins and onset.

There remains substantial disagreement regarding when the earliest Covid-19 cases appeared.

According to the WHO, the first confirmed Covid-19 cases in Wuhan, China occurred in December 2019, but the international agency does not by itself monitor the disease and depends on national governments for such information.

Officials in Wuhan have written that the first unexplained cases of viral pneumonia started on December 8, 2019.

Chinese doctors from Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, who treated some of the earliest Covid-19 patients, published a report in The Lancet medical journal that identified the date of the first known infection as December 1.

According to a paper in Science by Michael Worobey, the earliest cases occurred around December 10-11.

Media reports say the WIV has denied links between WIV and the first Covid patient (patient zero), but the Biden administration has confirmed prior State Department claims that “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019… with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

The email from Dr. Yuan was released as part of a Texas Public Information Act request to the University of Texas-Medical Branch, Galveston (UTMB), where Dr. LeDuc headed the Galveston National Laboratory until recently.

Dr. Yuan did not respond to a request for comment about this article.

Written by Sainath Suryanarayanan

Wuhan’s lower biosafety level labs posed greater risk for coronavirus lab leak, experts said

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Biosafety experts, including one with longstanding ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), privately harbored questions about risks taken with coronavirus research at biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) labs, including those in Wuhan, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know. The researchers felt that BSL-3 labs were more vulnerable to accidents, even more so than BSL-4 labs, a level used for the most potentially dangerous of pathogens.

While the WIV’s BSL-4 has been at the center of attention about biosafety practices related to the origin of Covid-19, the emails raise more questions about whether SARS-CoV-2 could have emerged from a lower biosafety level lab in Wuhan.

The emails cast doubt upon the biosafety protocols in place when the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), a U.S-based nonprofit research organization, to carry out research with the WIV and the University of North Carolina (UNC) that infected mice expressing human receptors with engineered novel bat coronaviruses. Much of that work on bat coronaviruses appears to have taken place in BSL-3 labs in Wuhan, according to grant documents submitted to the NIH; and in some cases, even lower containment BSL-2 labs in Wuhan, according to a Journal of Virology article, and other sources.

James Le Duc, a leading biosafety expert, and former director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), and David Franz, a bioweapons expert and former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), exchanged concerns about U.S. and Chinese BSL-2 and BSL-3 labs.

Le Duc has had significant contact with scientists in Wuhan over the years. He trained WIV scientists at the Galveston National Laboratory, and records show he made multiple trips to Wuhan since 1986 to train virologists there.

On May 15, 2021, after Franz shared a letter in Science in support of investigating the origins of Covid-19, including a possible lab origin, Le Duc wrote: “I’m afraid that it may be way too late to find much out but it should be attempted, including the bsl2 and bsl3 labs where I suspect the risk for accidental release is greater.”

On Jun 2, 2021, Le Duc wrote to Franz: “The focus on BSL4 is justified but the bigger problem is likely at BSL3 where many more exist and standards are varied.”

Franz wrote back to Le Duc, “I also mentioned the issue you raise about a focus on 4s, both because they tend to be taken more seriously by governments (possibly making them safer and more secure) than 2s or 3s and also that the 2s and 3s are generally more vulnerable than 4s.”

Biosafety level (BSL) designations were established in the mid-1970s. Biosafety labs are designated BSL-1 to BSL-4, with 4 as the most stringent in practices and containment of potential pathogens. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the NIH establish BSL designations. Pathogen Level [P] lab 1 to 4 designations are used interchangeably with BSL.

BSL-2 labs include ‘biosafety cabinets’ with HEPA filtration, where experiments are performed, providing lab researchers protection from infectious agents, according to the biosafety manuals of the CDC and Boston University. Personal protective equipment (PPE), including lab coats, gloves, and eye protection as well as decontaminating procedures, are standard. BSL-3 labs have additional biosafety measures, particularly to protect against agents with respiratory transmission routes; these include full gowns or Tyvek suits, face shields, and additional “risk-based” protections such as ventilation devices, which may differ depending on the agent being used. BSL-3 labs require negative pressure and a specialized anteroom, so that agents will be contained within the lab even in the case of an accidental spill or contamination; and have more extensive HEPA filtration systems.

BSL-4 facilities have been a focus of biosafety discussions because the most deadly and dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola and Marburg viruses, are studied there. BSL-4s have more custom-designed containment and stricter requirements, including “mandatory use of positive-pressure (“space”) suits” and “dedicated nonrecirculating ventilation systems.

In EHA-led work conducted in Wuhan, scientists infected humanized mice with engineered novel bat coronaviruses in a BSL-3 facility, according to grant documents EHA submitted to the NIH.  Some collection and engineering of bat coronaviruses were done in a BSL-2, with less stringent protocols and containment, according to multiple sources including a paper in the Journal of Virology .

“I think we need to remember that a lot of the work, especially on coronaviruses, has been done (presumably) at BSL3…”, wrote Le Duc.

In the NIH-funded EHA grant proposal, there was ambiguity as to where the humanized mouse infections would be performed. While many biosafety details were specified in the proposal for Ralph Baric’s UNC BSL-3 animal facility – such as “rodent-sized Seal-Safe systems (~192 cages) for maintaining animals in a Hepa-filtered Air in/out environment, exhausted into the BSL3 Hepa-filtered exhaust system” – few details were provided about biosafety measures for the animal work in Wuhan. EHA President Peter Daszak wrote to NIH staff in the summer of 2017, that “UNC has no oversight of the chimeric work, all of which will be conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” according to emails obtained by the White Coat Waste Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.

Confusingly, the infections of humanized mice with chimeric coronaviruses were said to be performed not only in Ralph Baric’s UNC animal BSL-3 lab, but at two locations in Wuhan – Wuhan University and the WIV. The animal BSL-3 labs at Wuhan University, were more sparsely described than those at the WIV, with general statements such as, experimental work using humanized mice will be conducted at the Center for Animal Experiment Biosafety 3 lab of Wuhan University at the School of Medicine in Wuhan, China…Animals will be housed in a BSL-3 facility and will be under the care of a full-time veterinarian.” More detailed descriptions of the animal protocols, however, were said to be available through the WIV or Wuhan University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) .

Franz wrote to Le Duc: “I haven’t worried about the BSL-4 lab, but certainly the one downtown [in Wuhan].”

Earlier this year, the Global Times reported that, “Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in April 2020 that China had two P4 labs in operation and 81 P3 labs in operation or approved for construction.”

Franz wrote, “There are also so many 2s and 3s that it is almost impossible to deal with them; it’s what happened with the legally binding protocol proposal to the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention] in the mid-90s.”

Le Duc wrote to Franz: “…the greatest risk is from the lower levels of biocontainment, but we don’t want to suggest that everything be moved to BSL4 either.”

U.S. Right to Know obtained the records reported on in this article through a Texas Public Information Act request to the University of Texas Medical Branch. We believe these records underscore the importance of transparency to minimize biosafety risks, prevent lab leaks and contain potential pandemic pathogens. They also highlight the need for scrutiny of current biosafety precautions.

Written by Sainath Suryanarayanan

Biosafety expert close to Wuhan Institute of Virology urged associates there to address his tough questions about lab origin of SARS-CoV-2

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In early 2020, as the world was reeling from the fast spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, a leading biosafety expert with close ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) encouraged scientists there to launch an “investigation” into whether the new disease could have come from the institute, including answering many of his specific questions about lab activities, emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know show.

The emails show that James Le Duc, a professor and former director of Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), suggested scientists at the institute in China should not wait for an outside probe, but gather information and be prepared to answer questions about their work and how it may be connected to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

In a Feb. 9, 2020 email to WIV Professor Yuan Zhiming, Le Duc wrote that he thought it was important to “aggressively address these rumors and presumably false accusations quickly and provide definitive, honest information to counter misinformation.”

“If there are weaknesses in your program, now is the time to admit them and get them corrected. I trust that you will take my suggestions in the spirit of one friend trying to help another during a very difficult time,” he wrote.

Though the February 2020 email indicated he downplayed the possibility of a lab leak, only two months later, Le Duc wrote in a separate correspondence to Phillip Russell, former president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, that it was “certainly possible a lab accident was the source of the epidemic and I also agree that we can’t trust the Chinese government.”

Le Duc was no stranger to the Wuhan institute; he had sponsored and trained WIV scientists at the Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory he ran in Galveston, and records show he made multiple trips to Wuhan to train virologists there since 1986.

In 2018 Le Duc co-authored an article in Science magazine with Yuan, who was then director of the WIV BSL-4 laboratory. Le Duc and Yuan referred to their “partnership” in the article, and wrote that they had “engaged in short- and long-term personnel exchanges focused on biosafety training, building operations and maintenance, and collaborative scientific investigations in biocontainment.”

BSL-3 and BSL-4 are biocontainment lab designations for handling dangerous pathogens. The higher level BSL-4 is used for working with the most dangerous high-risk agents, including Ebola and Marburg viruses.

Tough questions go unanswered

In the February 2020 email, Le Duc laid out numerous questions that he thought the WIV should address as part of an investigation into the possibility that the virus was “the result of a release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (main campus or new BSL3/BSL4 facilities).”

Among the questions he posed:

*Where is coronavirus research conducted? What level of biocontainment?

*What are the coronaviruses in your possession that are most closely related to nCoV [novel coronaviruses] based on genetic sequences and are able to replicate in culture?

*Is there an inventory record of each isolate of each coronavirus kept? If so, are there any discrepancies between the record and actual current inventory number?

*  How many people have access to the coronavirus stocks and laboratory?Senior investigators? Junior investigators? Technical support staff? Post-docs? Students? Animal handlers? Janitors and other cleaning staff? Building support personnel? Others?

* Is anyone on your team conducting gain of function studies, recombination studies or any other studies that may have resulted in the creation of the nCoV ?

*Does a serum bank exist for staff and students working on infectious agents? If yes, could a current serum and the most recent banked sera be serologically tested for antibody to nCoV in an effort to document seroconversion?

*Does the Institute have an occupational health clinic where employees and students can go to seek medical care? If so, was there any indication of unusual illness similar to that seen for nCoV among Institute staff?

*Where and when were the first Wuhan (or Hubei Province) residents infected with the nCoV first identified (hospital or clinic name/date of earliest cases)? Do staff members of the Institute reside in the district serviced by this (these) hospital/clinic (s)?

*Do staff members of the Wuhan Institute of Virology frequent the sea food/live market first associated with the nCoV outbreak? Did any staff member visit the market in the weeks prior to it being closed? If so, how many staff frequent the market? How often would they visit the market during the period of interest?

On April 13, 2020, Le Duc forwarded his email to Yuan to David Franz, former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, saying he had never received a response to his questions.

“As we explore trying to reengage our dialogue, some of these questions might be discussed,” he wrote to Franz.

Though the World Health Organization (WHO) has been conducting its own investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, many of the questions raised by Le Duc remain unanswered. And many scientists around the world fear there may never be a full, thorough and unconflicted investigation of the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

The April 2020 exchange between Le Duc and Russell shows that Russell, a physician, vaccine scientist and retired U.S. Army major general who died in 2021, was concerned that a “coverup” of the virus origins may be underway.

Russell wrote: “That does not rule out the possibility that one of the many bat coronaviruses isolated in the Wuhan lab infected a technician who walked out the door. No need for engineering the virus. The flimsiness of the epidemiology pointing to the wet market, the absence of bats in the market, the failure to identify an intermediate animal host, the extraordinary measures taken by the Chinese government, including persecution and probable killing of two brave physicians, to cover up the outbreak, the steps taken to silence the laboratory personnel,. the change in leadership of the lab, all point to the lab as the source of the outbreak.”

“This reminds me of the efforts by Matt Messelson and many colleagues to coverup up the Sverdeslosk [Sverdlovsk] anthrax outbreak,” Russell continued. “They succeeded for many years aided and abetted by many in academia until Ken Alibek defected and the truth came out. I bought the wet market story for months but now am very skeptical of anything information coming from the Chinese government.”

U.S. Right to Know obtained the emails for this article through a Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) request on July 3, 2020. UTMB did not produce these documents until November 23, 2021, more than 16 months later. USRTK filed a second TPIA request with UTMB on September 23, 2020, but more than 14 months later UTMB still has not yet produced any documents in response.

(Edited by Carey Gillam)

Public Comments on the WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) Members

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The World Health Organization has proposed 26 scientists for a new group to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as future outbreaks. WHO plans to appoint members to the new Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) after a two week review to gather public opinion on the proposed choices, which ends this week.

WHO’s terms of reference to strengthen public trust and transparency require that SAGO individuals “must be free of any real, potential, or apparent conflicts of interest. However several proposed panel members have clear conflicts of interest. For more this topic, see reporting in the BMJ, Covid-19: New WHO group to look into pandemic origins is dogged by alleged conflicts of interest

U.S. Right to Know has submitted comments describing conflict of interest concerns involving several proposed SAGO members. Below is the text of our public comments and you can find the PDF at this link.

From: U.S. Right to Know
Date: October 26, 2021
To: WHO Headquarters
RE: Public comments on SAGO members

Dear WHO staff:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) committee members.

We represent U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative public health group based in the United States.

According to the WHO terms of reference, SAGO members “must be free of any real, potential, or apparent conflicts of interest,” and “must respect the impartiality…required of WHO.”1 The following proposed SAGO members do not meet these standards for SAGO membership:

(1) Dr. Supaporn Wacharapluesadee is a subcontractor on a 2020 multi-million-dollar NIH grant2 to EcoHealth Alliance. Her lab at Chulalongkorn University is slated to receive a $1.07 million subcontract. According to the EcoHealth Alliance, Dr. Wacharapluesadee is a longstanding collaborator for “more than 10 years.”3 Between 2014 and 2019, she was funded by a UC Davis USAID PREDICT 2 grant, in which the EcoHealth Alliance was deeply involved.4 Since 2013, Dr. Wacharapluesadee has been a co-author on multiple publications5,6,7,8 with the EcoHealth Alliance, including four with its president, Dr. Daszak.9,10,11,12

The EcoHealth Alliance has conducted research on SARS related-CoVs with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Anyone with personal, financial or academic ties to the EcoHealth Alliance (including grant funding, co-authorship or other research collaboration) or the Wuhan Institute of Virology, cannot be a SAGO member, because such ties could impair their judgment in an investigation of zoonotic and/or lab origins of SARS-CoV-2. Any such ties constitute an impermissible conflict of interest.

Dr. Wacharapluesadee’s association and subcontractor role with the EcoHealth Alliance plainly constitutes a conflict of interest and is disqualifying under the WHO terms of reference.

(2) Dr. Christian Drosten. Dr. Drosten signed a letter in the Lancet, orchestrated by Dr. Daszak,13 arguing that the SARS-CoV-2 lab origin hypothesis is a conspiracy theory.14 Such prejudgement is disqualifying; it is incompatible with the standard of “impartiality” in the WHO SAGO terms of reference.

Moreover, Dr. Drosten served on a bat conference advisory committee with the Ecohealth Alliance and Dr. Zhengli Shi of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.15 Dr. Drosten’s funding and continued research collaborations rest on the zoonotic potential of bat coronaviruses. For these reasons, Dr. Drosten has a personal stake in SAGO’s outcome, because it is to his personal and professional advantage to declare a zoonotic origin for SARS-CoV-2. This, too, disqualifies him from being a SAGO member.

(3) Dr. Katherin Summermatter. Dr. Summermatter has claimed that a lab leak origin of SARS-CoV-2 is a “typical conspiracy theory.”16 Such prejudgment is disqualifying.

(4) Dr. Marion Koopmans. At a scientific conference,17 Dr. Koopmans claimed that a lab origin hypothesis of SARS-CoV-2 has been debunked, along with “meteorites” and “snake origins” of SARS-CoV-2.18 She has asserted that “we found not a grain of evidence for a lab escape theory” of SARS-CoV-2.19 Such prejudgment is inconsistent with the impartiality required of SAGO members, and is disqualifying.

Erasmus University’s Viroscience department, led by Dr. Koopmans, puts the EcoHealth Alliance as first on its list of collaborators.20 The disclosure also states that the viroscience department is “closely involved” in the EcoHealth Alliance. This conflict of interest, too, is disqualifying. Dr. Koopman’s membership in the conflicted, discredited and failed Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2 is also disqualifying.

The first WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2 failed for several reasons. It was tarnished by conflicts of interest. It failed to seriously investigate the possibility of a lab origin, while advancing the dubious cold chain, frozen food hypothesis. It seemed to act as a public relations instrument of the EcoHealth Alliance and the Chinese government. Participation in this botched WHO panel must be disqualifying for SAGO membership, including for these proposed SAGO members:

(5) Dr. Vladimir Dedkov
(6) Dr. Elmoubasher Farag
(7) Dr. Thea Fischer
(8) Dr. Hung Nguyen-Viet
(9) Dr. John Watson
(10) Dr. Yungui Yang

Of the disciplines listed in the SAGO terms of reference, only Drs. Blackwell and Summermater come from the disciplines of “biosafety, biosecurity, occupational health and safety, or laboratory safety and security, ethics and social sciences.” This is unbalanced. The proposed SAGO members do not include enough experts from these fields in the terms of reference. Scientists from diverse fields of study, not merely infectious disease, should be included in SAGO for many reasons, including to offset any conflicts of interest from zoonotic origins infectious disease researchers. We urge WHO to add at least three additional members from these disciplines to SAGO.

We urge you to replace the ten above persons with the list below, who would be exemplary SAGO members. Their presence and participation would inspire public trust in the SAGO.

Dr. Filippa Lentzos
Dr. Richard Ebright
Dr. Jesse Bloom
Dr. Alina Chan
Dr. David Relman
Alison Young
Edward Hammond
Milton Leitenberg
Dr. Stuart Newman
Dr. Michael Antoniou

Thank you for considering our comments.

Sincerely,

Shannon Murray, PhD, Staff Scientist
Gary Ruskin, Executive Director

1https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/scientific-advisory-group-on-the-origins-of-novel-pathogens/sago-tors-final-20-aug-21_-(002).pdf
2https://documentcloud.org/documents/21055988-risk-zoonotic-virus-hotspots-grant-notice
3https://documentcloud.org/documents/21055988-risk-zoonotic-virus-hotspots-grant-notice, pg. 358.
4https://documentcloud.org/documents/21055988-risk-zoonotic-virus-hotspots-grant-notice, pg. 78.
5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3739538/
6https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34218820/
7https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2050312121989631
8https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/MRA.01457-18
9https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12985-015-0289-1
10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmid/33990224/
11https://www.pnas.org/content/118/15/e2002324118.long
12https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-14-684
13https://usrtk.org/biohazards-blog/ecohealth-alliance-orchestrated-key-scientists-statement-on-natural-origin-of-sars-cov-2/
14https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30418-9/fulltext
15https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/CSU_records.pdf, pg. 1572.
16https://www-1815-ch.translate.goog/news/wallis/aktuell/es-werden-sachen-behauptet-die-weder-hand-noch-fuss-haben-153159/?_x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en-GB&_x_tr_pto=nui
1721 Feb 2020, KNAW-symposium, Marion Koopmans, ‘From spillover to global threat: science in action’.
18https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J24IfCS7HEs&t=832s
19https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=112&v=8KbUPh43304&feature=youtu.be
20https://www.erasmusmc.nl/en/research/departments/viroscience, see “Collaboration.”
21https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/scientific-advisory-group-on-the-origins-of-novel-pathogens/sago-tors-final-20-aug-21_-(002).pdf

Written by Shannon Murray

How NIH-funded research in China could have led to the COVID-19 pandemic

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A multimillion-dollar bat coronavirus research grant, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was made public last week, revealing that researchers based in Wuhan, China had manipulated coronaviruses in ways that led to increased severity of infection, employing platforms that tested the ability of bat coronaviruses to use human receptors.

The grant documents underscore the perils of the collection of and experimentation on potentially pathogenic viruses, and shed new light on U.S.-funded coronavirus experiments in Wuhan, China for five years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new information disclosed in the grant proposal and its interim reports do not establish that the research led to the pandemic. But they do suggest that it was possible.

The NIH-funded, five-year grant was awarded in 2014 to the U.S.-based EcoHealth Alliance, with EcoHealth President Peter Daszak as “principal investigator” in collaboration with several researchers in China, including two working at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).  A key collaborator on the grant was Ralph Baric, of the University of North Carolina, providing expertise in mouse models for coronavirus infections. The grant was renewed in 2019 but then cancelled in 2020 as the pandemic set off panic around the globe.

A copy of the research plan and interim reports, titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” was obtained through litigation against the NIH and publicly released by The Intercept. The documents show that the NIH grant was for $3.1 million, of which $599,000 went to the WIV and to researcher Zhengli Shi, who specialized in the study of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-1 (SARS-CoV-1) and similar viruses, called SARS related (SARSr)-CoVs.

Many scientists have posited a possible lab origin of SARS-CoV-2, and suggested the WIV as a possible source for the origin of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Coronaviruses (CoVs) emerging from wildlife are a “significant threat to global health,” the grant claims, with bats considered a “natural reservoir of these viruses.” With that in mind, the authors said that the purpose of their research was to “examine the risk of future coronavirus…emergence from wildlife” using a range of research techniques and to understand “what factors increase the risk of the next CoV emerging in people…” The work involved screening more than 30 species of bats for CoVs and then developing strategies for assessing the potential spillover of coronaviruses from bats to humans, according to the grant documents.

But it is possible that, in seeking to learn how to avoid spillover events, the work actually caused one.

How it could have happened

How might the EcoHealth Alliance grant have caused, or contributed to, the pandemic? Here are some possible scenarios based on a close reading of the grant.

  • During fieldwork, collection, and containment of bat SARSr-CoV samples, people could have been accidentally infected. The research involved collecting samples from bats in four Chinese provinces: Yunnan, Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian. The researchers explained their prolific sampling of Chinese bats and identification of new coronaviruses: “We have identified sequences from 268 novel bat-CoVs (140 from China alone),” they wrote in the grant. “We have an additional 5000+ clinical samples from free-ranging bats and rodents from Guangdong province.”

The grantees acknowledged that their work had serious implications, writing in the grant documents that “some SARSr-CoVs currently circulating in bats in southern China are likely able to infect and replicate within people.” [Emphasis in original].

In fact, the most closely related virus to SARS-CoV-2 identified to date was found by WIV scientists in a mineshaft in Mojiang (Yunnan Province). In 2012-2013, six miners experienced acute respiratory distress syndrome after exposure to bat feces in this mineshaft, and three died.

  • There is evidence of lax bat-handling practices and minimal use of personal protective equipment (PPE) at WIV and Wuhan University, where parts of the research were conducted. By their own admission, the researchers noted, this work could be dangerous. “Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARSr-related or other bat CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled,” according to the grant documents.

The grant documents state that “Tyvek suits and HEPA-filtered Powered Air Purifying and Supplied Air Respirator Systems (PAPRs) will additionally be worn in cave systems where there is a higher risk of contact with aerosolized bat feces.”

If any of those bat samples contained a close relative of SARS-CoV-2 infectious to humans, an accidental infection during the course of fieldwork, subsequent lab procedures, or containment could have led to a transmissible SARSr-CoV with greater similarity to SARS-CoV-2 than the currently reported strains. In fact, analysis of some early strains of SARS-CoV-2 shows that they may be more similar to bat coronaviruses than previously thought, based on evidence recovered from viral sequences deleted from NIH sequence archives.

  • During lab experimentation with the bat coronaviruses, it is possible that a novel virus was produced with greater similarity to SARS-CoV-2 than those reported in the NIH grant. The researchers stated in the grant that they developed an in vivo model, that is, mice genetically engineered to carry human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE-2), the receptor for SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. The research group also reported that they were successful in generating new SARS-like coronaviruses. They did this by splicing the RNA sequences of the novel spike proteins they discovered into the viral ‘backbone’ of known lab strains.  This kind of novel virus is called a chimera because it consists of genetic elements from different viruses.

In this way, the researchers created three chimeric viruses, each with a different spike protein, from bats.

  • Though the grant does not mention a virus similar enough to SARS-CoV-2 to be a direct progenitor, it is possible that other chimeric viruses were tested in this model, but were not reported in the grant. The researchers had access to troves of novel coronaviruses collected during fieldwork, including unreported bat viruses. It is common for researchers to present some but not all data in interim grant reports. The research described in the grant established a platform that could have easily been used to study other chimeric viruses more closely related to SARS-CoV-2 than those mentioned in the grant.

There are indications of this within the grant documents. While results from infection of hACE-2 mice with three chimeric viruses were presented, the researchers wrote in the grant, “[w]e cannot anticipate exactly how many viruses we will find that are candidates for experimental models…and that we will identify approximately 20 viruses that will be used for mouse infection experiments.”  It is possible that the researchers generated a novel chimeric virus with more similarity to SARS-CoV-2 than those reported.

Experiments on human ACE-2 mice

The NIH grant describes important research on mice with human ACE-2 receptors.

The researchers infected the hACE-2 mice with the chimeric SARS-like bat coronaviruses to see how sick they would get, and whether they would shed infectious virus compared to the original viral strain. They found that hACE-2 mice infected with some of the chimeric viruses lost more body weight and shed more virus in the lungs than those infected by the original viral strain at certain time points. This research resulted in chimeric viruses that gained infectious and pathogenic properties.

“We’ll infect them [hACE-2 mice] with cultured bat coronaviruses and determine which organs become infected and whether these mice are capable of shedding infectious virus”, the grant proposed. The grant aimed to study tissues of the chimeric virus-infected hACE-2 mice for virus replication.

The grant proposed testing different transmission routes in which the mice could be infected, comparing nasal infection versus other routes. The grant outlines, “[W]e will perform in vivo infection experiments in humanized mice modified to carry human ACE2…gene in the Wuhan Institute of Virology BSL-3 animal facility…[t]his work will provide information about viral pathogenicity, tissue tropism, transmission route, and infection symptom.”

An outstanding question is whether the chimeric viruses can be transmitted between the hACE-2 mice. Whether the scientists explicitly reported on this is not the question, but rather, was a novel chimeric bat virus engineered that was also transmissible between hACE-2 mice?  While the grant does not discuss repeated passage of viruses in hACE-2 mice, the platform also sets up biosafety concerns about this possibility.

A weakness in the prominent “proximal origin” paper?

Some scientists who have argued against a lab origin for SARS-CoV-2 contend that the virus has a signature of it being adapted in an animal host with an intact immune system, for which no such appropriate laboratory model has been described.

One of these arguments against a lab origin of SARS-CoV-2, advanced by scientist Kristian Andersen and colleagues, and published as an influential correspondence in Nature Medicine, was “[s]ubsequent generation of a polybasic cleavage site would have then required repeated passage in cell culture or animals with ACE2 receptors similar to those of humans, but such work has also not previously been described.” [Emphasis ours.]

However, the grant shows this is not correct; the experimentation on the hACE-2 mice establish such a model.

Infection of hACE-2 mice with the novel chimeric bat coronaviruses could have supported new viruses with sequence changes that make them better able to infect human cells. These could be more similar in sequence to SARS-CoV-2 than the original chimeric virus infecting strains.  The hACE-2 expressing mice could have enabled some human adaptation of the chimeric SARS-like bat coronaviruses in vivo, generating viruses with more similarity to SARS-CoV-2 than those reported to date.  This is another possible explanation for how NIH-funded research in China could have led to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bottom line

In addition to searching for spillover events, the research outlined in the grant had the potential to generate a spillover event. This could have occurred as an accidental infection during fieldwork and laboratory handling of bat SARSr-CoVs; during containment or storage of them; or during the laboratory engineering of novel chimeric bat coronaviruses; or, after these novel viruses were used to infect hACE-2 mice, leading to a more infectious, transmissible, and/or pathogenic virus that was a precursor to SARS-CoV-2. The possibility of a lab leak or lab-acquired infection with any of these novel coronaviruses during lab experimentation raises serious biosafety concerns.

Though the bat coronavirus grant project has concluded, it is entirely possible that other studies using this platform were performed or are now being performed, including those related to viral transmission. It is noteworthy that it took civil litigation to bring these grant documents to light, even though the research itself was paid for by U.S. taxpayers. It is also noteworthy that EcoHealth Alliance has received nearly $40 million in multiple grants from the Department of Defense, and DOD grant data is often considered classified and withheld from the public.

And though the 5-year bat coronavirus research grant was only renewed for one additional year, a $7.5 million NIH grant, titled “Understanding Risk of Zoonotic Virus Emergence in EID Hotspots of Southeast Asia,” was awarded to EHA in 2020 to expand on the platforms established in the 2014 grant.

This newer grant, with Daszak again as principal investigator, was also made public last week by the Intercept. The new grant is a consortium grant that adds more collaborators and lab sites where the research will be performed, including a BSL-4 facility in Boston.  Funding is approved for the budget cycle of June 17, 2020 through May 31, 2025.

The bottom line is this: It is unclear whether the work performed under the 2014 bat coronavirus NIH grant played a role in the COVID-19 pandemic. But the EcoHealth Alliance and WIV collection and storage of SARS-related bat coronaviruses, and the creation and use of chimeric novel bat coronaviruses with human ACE-2 expressing mouse platforms, could have sparked the pandemic.

Congress should launch an investigation into U.S. government funding of this type of risky research as part of a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the pandemic.

U.S. Right to Know believes transparency in science is essential to protection of public health, including preventing future pandemics.

Dr. Shannon Murray is a staff scientist at U.S. Right to Know. She received her Ph.D. in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center from the University of Washington. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Written by Shannon Murray. Editing by Carey Gillam

Scientists who authored article denying lab engineering of SARS-CoV-2 privately acknowledged possible lab origin, emails show

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Four prominent U.S. virologists who published a widely cited commentary strongly rebutting the theory that SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, might have been engineered in a lab privately acknowledged that they could not “rule out the possibility” of a lab leak, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

The emails discuss the need for careful wording of the commentary titled “No credible evidence supporting claims of the laboratory engineering of SARS-CoV-2,” which was published in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections (EMI) on February 26, 2020.

Published at a time when countries were grappling with the rapid spread of COVID-19, the commentary, which concluded that “SARS-CoV-2 shows no evidence of laboratory origin,” was shared widely in the scientific community. By the end of 2020, it had been downloaded 75,000 times and was the third most popular article in 2020 for academic publisher Taylor & Francis.

It and another influential statement denying a lab origin were published less than two months after the identification of SARS-CoV-2, when the importance of scientific studies to limit the spread and find treatments for COVID-19 were crucial. The communications within these emails, as well as others obtained and shared publicly by U.S. Right to Know, indicate involvement by individuals with undisclosed conflicts of interest; limited peer-review; and a lack of even-handedness and transparency regarding the consideration of lab-origin theories within the scientific community.

Lab leak possibility cited

The newly released emails contain discussions between scientists Shan-Lu Liu and Linda Saif, both with Ohio State University; Susan Weiss, of the University of Pennsylvania; and Lishan Su, who at the time was employed by the University of North Carolina. Some correspondence includes EMI editor Shan Lu, of the University of Massachusetts.

The published EMI commentary outlined multiple arguments as to why SARS-CoV-2 was not the result of laboratory engineering, arguing it was “more likely” the virus originated “in nature between a bat CoV and another coronavirus in an intermediate animal host.”

The authors stated in the article: “there is currently no credible evidence to support the claim that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a laboratory engineered CoV.” They wrote that despite “speculations, rumours and conspiracy theories that SARS-CoV-2 is of laboratory origin,” there was in fact “no evidence of laboratory origin.”

However, in a Feb. 16, 2020 email, Liu wrote to Weiss “we cannot rule out the possibility that it comes from a bat virus leaked out of a lab.”

Liu suggested changing the title of the commentary from “SARS-CoV-2: no evidence of laboratory origin” to downplay a focus on the origin issue.  The title Liu suggested, according to the email, should “emphasize that the new virus is not laboratory engineered.” That suggested title – “SARS-CoV-2: no evidence for laboratory engineering” – later was finalized to contain a subtle caveat: “No credible evidence supporting claims of the laboratory engineering of SARS-CoV-2”.

The emails reveal other questionable details behind the commentary.  On Feb. 11, EMI’s Lu wrote to Su and Liu about suggested changes to the commentary, “…It is better not going to too much science/tech details as it can only confuse people and provide more room for people to raise more questions.”

Emails show EMI solicited and expedited publication of the commentary and waived fees normally associated with publication.  EMI’s Lu wrote to authors Liu and Su, “Yes, just a secret to you two and not share with others. When I put a super fast review and accept (basically no review), the JEO [Journal Editorial Office] of T&F, became very suspicious and wanted her boss to check and approve.”

Su replied: “Thanks for speeding it up, bro!”

“Frightening to think it may have been engineered“

An important part of the debate over the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is the existence of a furin cleavage site (FCS) at the junction between the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein domains, S1 and S2. SARS-CoV-2 belongs to a group of viruses known as betacoronaviruses lineage B. The FCS, however, does not appear in any of the other coronaviruses in this group. One argument in support of the lab origin hypothesis is that the FCS within the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein could be a result of laboratory manipulation.

The EMI commentary does not address the existence of the FCS, even though it is widely considered one of the strongest pieces of evidence of lab engineering. Evidence supports the importance of the FCS in the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to infect human cells and tissues. Engineering FCS within coronaviruses is a well-known practice in coronavirus research labs.

Email exchanges between the co-authors show that though their commentary did not address the issue, they discussed the troubling implications.

In one Feb 16 email Weiss wrote: “I don’t think it is likely that bat virus leaked into humans in the lab- is there any evidence that someone from the Wuhan lab is infected? …– lineage B Bat viruses generally do not have the furin site…I doubt very much it was engineered in[,] in the lab. Doesn’t make sense.”

Five days later, however, Weiss wrote to Liu: “I find it hard to imagine how that sequence got into the spike of a lineage b betacoronavirus- not seen in SARS or any of the bat viruses.”

Liu wrote back: “I completely agree with you, but rumor says that furin site may be engineered…”

Weiss replied: “I have been speculating- how can that site have appeared at S1/S2 border- I hate to think to was engineered- among the MHV [mouse hepatitis virus] strains, the cleavage site does not increaser [sic] pathogenicity while it does effect entry route (surface vs endosome). [S]o for me the only significance of this furin site is as a marker for where the virus came from- frightening to think it may have been engineered.”

Weiss wrote in another email: “I remain concerned about the insertion of the furin site.”

Other questionable revelations

The emails also show the commentary included the involvement of coronavirus expert Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina (UNC) and Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

Baric and Shi have been central figures in ongoing inquiries regarding the potential origins of SARS-CoV-2 and whether or not there is a connection between the virus and gain-of-function research collaborations between UNC and WIV.  Such collaborations have been funded in part by the USAID-EPT-PREDICT program through an organization called EcoHealth Alliance. 

The emails show the authors of the EMI commentary asked Baric and Shi to review the EMI commentary before its publication, and included some of their comments in revisions. Neither Shi nor Baric were listed as co-authors or acknowledged as contributing.

EMI’s Lu wrote to the authors, “We don’t want to appear that we are defending Ralph even though he did nothing wrong.”

Over the last year and a half, a few scientists have privately expressed concerns about signatures of lab engineering seen in the SARS-CoV-2 genome but later authored commentaries arguing against a lab origin of SARS-CoV-2.

Documents show that Kristian Andersen, a virologist with the Scripps Research Institute, emailed Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, early in 2020 expressing concerns about possible genetic engineering of the virus.

Andersen had a conference call with Fauci and other scientists in February 2020, and shortly after led the authoring of a high profile article, published as a correspondence in the journal Nature Medicine, specifically arguing against any possible laboratory engineering of the virus.

U.S. Right to Know obtained the emails about the EMI commentary from an Ohio Public Records Act request to Ohio State University for emails of Professor Shan-Lu Liu.

U.S. Right to Know believes transparency in science is critical for understanding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, determining control and treatment of the virus, regulating research involving dangerous pathogens, and preventing future pandemics.

Written by Shannon Murray. Editing by Carey Gillam.

For more information

Ohio State University Professor Shan-Lu Liu’s emails, which U.S. Right to Know obtained through an Ohio Public Records Act request, can be found here: Shan-Lu Liu emails: Ohio State University (488 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.

Wuhan Institute of Virology has many unreported bat virus samples, collaborating virologist says

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The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) “has many bat samples not yet worked out or results published,” according to emails of Ohio State University virologist Shan-Lu Liu, which were obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

Shan-Lu Liu has collaborated with WIV’s chief coronavirologist Zhengli Shi. For example, Liu consulted with Shi on a Feb 26, 2020 commentary in Emerging Microbes & Infections (EMI), which tried to rebut the hypothesis that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab.

The WIV, one of the world’s foremost coronavirus research institutes, is under investigation by U.S. governmental authorities, academic virologists and independent researchers and journalists as a potential source for SARS-CoV-2’s origin in Wuhan.

In February 2020, WIV 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 emerged from wildlife. However, key questions persist about the provenance of RaTG13 and about the reliability of the WIV scientists’ claims about the closest known bat coronavirus relatives of SARS-CoV-2.

Scientists have posited that SARS-CoV-2 may be a product of WIV’s experiments on an unpublished bat coronavirus that is more closely related to SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13. However, this cannot be verified because WIV’s authorities shut down outside access to its virus database in September 2019.

Zhengli Shi has denied speculations that her lab was working in secret on other bat viruses. In an interview with Science magazine in July 2020, Shi wrote: “We tested all bat samples that we collected, including bat anal swabs, oral swabs and fecal samples, and 2,007 samples were positive for coronavirus. We did not find any viruses whose gene sequence is more similar to SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13.”

The statement about the WIV working on many unpublished bat viruses occurred in an email exchange on Feb 16, 2020 between Shan-Lu Liu and University of Pennsylvania coronavirologist Susan Weiss. Discussing SARS-CoV-2’s origin, Weiss asked: “Do you think it could come from a bat virus- which one or an unpublished one? RaTg13 is the closest? Is it close enough in sequence? Do you think it came through an intermediate host and sequence drifted? This is a very chilling idea”

Liu replied: “I have looked at carefully the RaTG13 sequence, and it is unlikely from it – also see attached file. But we cannot rule out the possibility of other bat viruses from the lab – The Wuhan lab has many bat samples not yet worked out or results published. There are some concerns that some of their samples may not have been handled properly and leaked out of the lab…But just a possibility.”

The Emerging Microbes and Infections commentary made no mention of the WIV’s work on unpublished bat coronaviruses.

For more information

Ohio State University Professor Shan-Lu Liu’s emails, which U.S. Right to Know obtained through an Ohio Public Records Act request, can be found here: Shan-Lu Liu emails: Ohio State University (488 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.

Written by Sainath Suryanarayanan

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.

Written by Sainath Suryanarayanan