Questions about the origin of SARS-CoV-2 continue to swirl as Chinese officials delete some 300 coronavirus studies, including all of the papers published by Shi Zhengli, the bat coronavirus researcher at the center of this drama. As reported by the Daily Mail, January 9, 2021:1
â€œThe Chinese government is facing fresh accusations of a cover-up after officials deleted crucial online data about the laboratory suspected of being the source of COVID-19 â€¦ Hundreds of pages of information relating to studies carried out by the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology have been wiped.
Details of more than 300 studies, including many investigating diseases that pass from animals to humans, published online by the state-run National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) are no longer available. The deletion of key evidence has reignited fears that China is trying to whitewash the investigation into the origins of the virus.â€�
The data deletion came on the heels of President Xi Jinpingâ€™s decision to block World Health Organization investigators from entering China. State media have also reportedly published â€œhundreds of storiesâ€� claiming SARS-CoV-2 did not originate in Wuhan.
Mounting Evidence Points to Lab Leak
Meanwhile, evidence that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a lab in China continues to mount â€” this according to U.S. deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger.2 According to a January 2, 2021, Mail Online article:3
â€œPottinger said that the latest intelligence points to the virus leaking from the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology â€¦ ‘There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus.’
He claimed the pathogen may have escaped through a ‘leak or an accident,’ adding: ‘Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story.’ The comments â€¦ were made during a Zoom conference with MPs on China â€¦
â€˜MPs around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,’ Mr. Pottinger told the parliamentarians, in reference to the fake villages created in the Crimea in the 18th Century, intended to convince the visiting Russian Empress Catherine the Great that the region was in good health.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory Party leader who attended the meeting, said Mr. Pottinger’s comments represented a ‘stiffening’ of the U.S. position on the theory that the virus came from a leak at the laboratory â€¦â€�
According to the Daily Mail, the WHO â€” already accused of being too accommodating to China â€” has raised additional controversy with its decision to not include the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in its investigation, despite the fact that the WIV is the lab with the highest biosecurity in China and the most likely source.4
Conflicts of Interest Taint Investigations Into Origin
The WHO is also under critique for its decision to include Peter Daszak, Ph.D., in its investigative committee.5 Daszak is the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization focused on pandemic prevention that has worked closely with the WIV. When SARS-CoV-2 first emerged in Wuhan, the EcoHealth Alliance was actually providing funding to the WIV to collect and study novel bat coronaviruses.
Daszak is also heading up a second commission to investigate the origin of the virus, The Lancet COVID-19 commission,6 despite having openly and repeatedly dismissed the possibility of the pandemic being the result of a lab leak.7
Importantly, correspondence obtained by U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) show Daszak played a central role in the plot to obscure the lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 from the very beginning by crafting a scientific statement condemning such inquiries as â€œconspiracy theory.â€�8,9 This manufactured â€œconsensusâ€� was then relied on by the media to counter anyone presenting theories and evidence to the contrary.
Critics Call on Daszak to Step Down
Daszakâ€™s blatant conflicts of interest were highlighted in a second January 9, 2021, Daily Mail article.10 â€œHow can Peter Daszak, a British scientist who helped fund controversial experiments on coronaviruses by Chinaâ€™s Batwoman, be part of WHOâ€™s team investigating the original source of the outbreak?â€� the Daily Mail asked. According to the article, Daszak is now â€œfacing calls to step downâ€� from both investigative committees. As reported by the Daily Mail:11
â€œâ€˜Peter Daszak has conflicts of interest that unequivocally disqualify him from being part of an investigation of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic,â€™ said Richard Ebright, bio-security expert and professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
â€˜He was the contractor responsible for funding of high-risk research on SARS-related bat coronaviruses at Wuhan Institute of Virology and a collaborator on this research.â€™
The pugnacious scientist â€¦ spent much of the past year trying to counter claims of a possible laboratory leak while defending his friend Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan scientist known as Batwoman for her virus-hunting trips in caves. â€˜Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know COVID-19 wasnâ€™t created in a lab,â€™ ran the headline to one typical article he wrote in The Guardian.
But other scientists say there is no firm evidence at this stage to back Daszakâ€™s insistence that COVID-19 crossed from animals to humans via natural transmission â€¦
Emails released through freedom of information requests have shown Daszak recruited some of the worldâ€™s top scientists to counter claims of a possible lab leak with publication of a landmark collective letter to The Lancet early last year.
He drafted their statement attacking â€˜conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural originâ€™ and then persuaded 26 other prominent scientists to back it.
He suggested the letter should not be identifiable as â€˜coming from any one organization or person.â€™ The signatories include six of the 12-strong Lancet team investigating the cause of the outbreak.â€�
Daszak Has Previously Warned About Lab Escape Dangers
Strangely enough, according to the Daily Mail,12 in an October 2015 article in the journal Nature, Daszak actually warned a global pandemic might occur from a laboratory incident and that â€œthe risks were greater with the sort of virus manipulation research being carried out in Wuhan.â€�
Earlier that year, he was also a key speaker at a National Academies of Science seminar on reducing risk from emerging infectious diseases. Among the material Daszak presented at that meeting was a paper titled, â€œAssessing Coronavirus Threats,â€� which included an examination of the â€œspillover potentialâ€� from â€œgenetic and experimental studiesâ€� on viruses.
In particular, he highlighted the danger of experimenting on â€œhumanized mice,â€� meaning lab mice that have been genetically altered to carry human genes, cells or tissues.
Such concerns were apparently swept under the rug, because January 2, 2020, Daszak sent out a tweet announcing heâ€™d successfully isolated SARS coronaviruses â€œthat bind to human cells in the lab,â€� and that the work of other scientists show some of these viruses have pandemic potential as they can infect humanized mice.13
â€œAnother tweet two months earlier talked about â€˜great progressâ€™ with SARS-related coronaviruses from bats through identifying new strains, finding ones that bind to human cells and â€˜using recombinant viruses/humanized mice to see SARS-like signs and showing some donâ€™t respond to vaccines,â€™â€� the Daily Mail writes, adding:14
â€œDaszak also told a podcast that bat coronaviruses could be manipulated in a lab â€˜pretty easily,â€™ explaining how their spike proteins â€” which bind to human receptors in cells â€” drive the risk of transmission from animals to humans. â€˜You can get the [genetic] sequence, build the protein, insert it into the backbone of another virus and do some work in the lab,â€™ he said succinctly.â€�
Is SARS-CoV-2 the Result of Passage Through Transgenic Mice?
Might SARS-CoV-2 be the result of close ancestor viruses being passed through transgenic mice equipped with human ACE2 receptors? This is one of the latest hypotheses raised in recent weeks.15
As reported by The Jackson Laboratory,16 structural differences between the mouse ACE2 and the human ACE2 proteins make regular lab mice unsuitable for research relating to SARS-CoV-2, as the virus cannot readily infect them. However, there are transgenic mice that express human ACE2.
The first of these transgenic mice, known as K18-hACE2, was developed in 2007. Other transgenic mice with human ACE2 have been created since then. At least two recent studies have shown that transgenic mice with human ACE2 are easily infected and killed by SARS-CoV-2:
â€¢ The first, published in the July 8, 2020, issue of Cell Host & Microbe found transgenic mice with human ACE2 of all ages had far higher viral loads in the lungs, trachea and brain than wild-type mice.
While none died, older transgenic mice infected with SARS-CoV-2 came down with pneumonia and had elevated cytokines. The virus was found to produce â€œproductive infectionâ€� both via intranasal and intragastric infection.17
â€¢ The second, published in the July 9, 2020, issue of the journal Cell found SARS-CoV-2 infected HFH4-hACE2 transgenic mice, causing death. The infection was primarily localized to the lungs, causing interstitial pneumonia similar to that seen in COVID-19 patients. Low levels of viral RNA were also found in the eyes, heart and brain in a small number of animals.18
Zhengli Experimented on Humanized Mice
In response19 to questions for a July 31, 2020 Science article, WIV researcher Zhengli stated that:20,21
â€œWe performed in vivo experiments in transgenic (human ACE2 expressing) mice and civets in 2018 and 2019 in the Instituteâ€™s biosafety laboratory. The viruses we used were bat SARSr-CoV close to SARS-CoV â€¦ The results suggested that bat SARSr-CoV can directly infect civets and can also infect mice with human ACE2 receptors. Yet it showed low pathogenicity in mice and no pathogenicity in civets.â€�
So, Zhengli admits experiments were done on transgenic mice using a bat-derived SARS-related coronavirus â€” which closely resembles SARS-CoV â€” as recently as 2018 and 2019. (SARS-CoV is the virus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), that broke out in 2003.)
Could this be the missing intermediate species that explains why SARS-CoV-2 is so well-adapted to infecting humans via the ACE2 receptor? As reported by Taipei News, January 11, 2021:22
â€œThe director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at WIV, Shi Zhengli â€¦ since 2007 has been researching how spike proteins in natural and chimeric SARS-like coronaviruses bind to the ACE2 receptors in the cells of humans, bats, and other animals.
That year, she created a number of chimeras by inserting different segments of the SARS-CoV S spike protein into that of a bat virus (SL-CoV S) which was used as a backbone. The conclusion of Shi’s team was that a minimal insert region (amino acids 310 to 518) was enough to â€˜convert the SL-CoV S from non-ACE2 binding to human ACE2 binding.â€™
In other words, as far back as 2007, the lab had discovered how to convert a virus that only infected bats into one that could infect humans â€¦ In 2019, just before the known start of the pandemic, [assistant researcher] Hu [Ben] began his work on a project titled â€˜Pathogenicity of 2 new bat SARS-related covs to transgenic mice expressing human ACE2.â€™
According to [researcher Billy] Bostickson [a pseudonym], â€˜This research involved ‘novel’ bat coronaviruses inoculated into immuno-suppressed mice with humanized features, such as hACE2, and possibly humanized lungs, bone marrow, etc…â€™
He added that â€˜Such experiments were a recipe for disaster, as we know.â€™ No information about this research has been released to the public since the start of the pandemic, including data on the eight chimeric viruses the WIV had been infecting the mice with.
In fact, all of the institute’s databases have been offline since the start of the pandemic for alleged â€˜cybersecurity issues,â€™ including 100 unpublished sequences of bat betacoronaviruses, which need to be sequenced by international scientists, according to Bostickson.â€�
Bostickson is a researcher with the Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19 (DRASTIC). DRASTIC has created a petition23 to the WHO COVID-19 International Investigation Team, asking for answers to 50 key questions about the outbreak. Theyâ€™re also requesting access to the currently missing WIV database and lab records spanning two decades.
The Qingdao Outbreak
In the featured video above, Dr. John Campbell reviews the latest updates on the investigation into the origin of the pandemic. This includes findings from an investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak in Qingdao that occurred in October 2020.24
According to Wu Zunyou, a researcher with the Chinese equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak was traced back to imported frozen cod.
According to Wu, the virus can infect people after extended periods of deep freeze, which Campbell agrees is logical from a virological perspective. However, while being a weak argument, to say the least, the Chinese are using this finding as evidence that the virus did not originate in Wuhan but, rather, was imported from overseas.
Campbell goes on to review some of the background of the WIV, which is located 11 miles from the open market initially identified as â€œground zeroâ€� for the COVID-19 outbreak. Itâ€™s an interesting coincidence, and since even the Chinese authorities have now dismissed the market as being the source, the possibility of the virus originating in WIV seems all the more plausible.
Importantly, the WIV specializes in the study of bat-borne viruses. WIV has also collaborated with U.S. researchers, and has received study grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (some of it being funneled through the EcoHealth Alliance).
Whatâ€™s more, in 2018, U.S. state department officials who had inspected the lab warned there were safety weaknesses that might facilitate the emergence of a SARS-like pandemic,25 which is precisely what weâ€™ve been dealing with for the past year.
Can We Get to the Truth?
Whether either of the two investigative commissions will actually unearth the truth about SARS-CoV-2â€™s origin or simply bury it deeper remains to be seen, but based on key membersâ€™ clear conflicts of interests, it doesnâ€™t look promising.
Daszak â€” who is part of both of these investigations â€” has every reason to make sure that a) SARS-CoV-2 doesnâ€™t get traced back to the WIV, seeing how heâ€™s been working with them, and b) the virus is declared a natural occurrence, since his own livelihood as a scientist would otherwise be threatened.
Still, as noted by Campbell, we must try to get to the bottom of where SARS-CoV-2 came from, even if efforts to obfuscate the truth are at work. Itâ€™s really crucial if we are to prevent a similar pandemic to erupt in the future. As noted by the National Review:26
â€œIf it originated from a person eating bat or pangolin at a wet market, then we need to take steps to ensure that bat and pangolin consumption and trade stops everywhere in the world â€¦
Bat guano is used as fertilizer in many countries, and that guano can be full of viruses â€¦ If this is the source of the virus, we need to get people to stop going into caves and using the guano as fertilizer â€¦
In a strange way, the â€˜lab accidentâ€™ scenario is one of the most reassuring explanations. It means that if we want to ensure we never experience this again, we simply need to get every lab in the world working on contagious viruses to ensure 100% compliance with safety protocols, all the time.â€�
Historical facts tell us accidental exposures and releases have already happened, and we only have our lucky stars to thank that none have turned into pandemics taking the lives of millions.
From my perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic is a clarion call to the research community and the public alike. Over the past year, weâ€™ve seen a relatively nonlethal virus sweep the globe causing unprecedented damage in myriad ways.
By continuing gain-of-function research on lethal pathogens, we may be sealing our own fate. Considering safety breaches at these labs number in the hundreds,27,28,29,30 itâ€™s only a matter of time before something really nasty gets out. The question is, will we make the right choice and ban this kind of research before itâ€™s too late?