NEW DELHI: An organization backed by top US health advisor Dr Anthony Fauci had funded Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology for research on coronavirus, claimed a report published by the globally respected US weekly magazine Newsweek.
In 2019, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with the backing of Fauci-led National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), committed $3.7 million over six years for research on bat coronaviruses in China, according to a report in Newsweek. The research also included gain of function work, which involves manipulating viruses in the lab to explore their potential for infecting humans.
The program followed another $3.7 million, 5-year project for collecting and studying bat coronaviruses, which ended in 2019, bringing the total to $7.4 million, it said.
The report comes days after the Trump administration refused to rule out that the deadly virus leaked out of a laboratory in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, a scenario strenuously denied by Beijing.
“Many scientists have criticized gain of function research, which involves manipulating viruses in the lab to explore their potential for infecting humans, because it creates a risk of starting a pandemic from accidental release,” the report said.
It added that the US intelligence, after initially asserting that the coronavirus outbreak had occurred naturally, conceded last month that the pandemic may have originated in a leak from the Wuhan lab.
While Dr Fauci did not respond to Newsweek’s requests for comment, the NIH defended the funding saying that there was no proof that the virus was created in a laboratory.
“Most emerging human viruses come from wildlife, and these represent a significant threat to public health and biosecurity in the US and globally, as demonstrated by the SARS epidemic of 2002-03, and the current COVID-19 pandemic…. scientific research indicates that there is no evidence that suggests the virus was created in a laboratory,” the Newsweek quoted NIH as saying.
According to the report, the first part of the NIH research began in 2014 and involved surveillance of bat coronaviruses with a budget of $3.7 million.
“The program funded Shi Zheng-Li, a virologist at the Wuhan lab, and other researchers to investigate and catalogue bat coronaviruses in the wild. This part of the project was completed in 2019,” the report said.
It said the second phase of the project began last year and included additional surveillance work but also gain-of-function research for the purpose of understanding how bat coronaviruses could mutate to attack humans.
Richard Ebright, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers University, told Newsweek, “The project description refers to experiments that would enhance the ability of bat coronavirus to infect human cells and laboratory animals using techniques of genetic engineering. In the wake of the pandemic, that is a noteworthy detail.”
Interestingly, according to another report, the NIH canceled the project last week on April 24.
The report said that Ebright is among a group of scientists who have been vocal opponents of gain of function research because of the risk it presents of creating a pandemic through accidental release from a lab.
Chinese scientists have said that they suspect that the virus emerged late last year in a Wuhan meat market that butchered exotic animals.
But questions immediately arose because of the presence nearby of the maximum-security virology lab, with senior US officials bringing into the mainstream what was initially an online conspiracy theory.
Read the original reporthere
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