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In China, up to 80,000 animals have already been tested for the natural origin of COVID-19, however, neither the intermediate host nor the suspected bats that gave rise to the coronavirus that led to the current pandemic have yet been found. As the natural interspecies jump theory remains unproven, doubts are growing in the scientific community: could COVID-19 have been created in a laboratory? So far, this theory has not yet been proven, however, there are several facts that put the spotlight on a laboratory in Wuhan, the city where the pandemic originated.
According to the Spanish newspaper ABC, “In a BSL-2 laboratory, which ranks second to last in safety, Dr. Shi Zhengli and zoologist Peter Daszak genetically manipulated a SARS-like virus and added parts of other bat viruses to ‘reproduce well’ in human cells and without going through an intermediate animal.”
The Wuhan laboratory as the source of the pandemic
What Pablo M. Díez, the Spanish newspaper’s correspondent in Asia, explains is that the opacity of the Chinese regime (which has systematically prevented independent investigation of the facilities, documents and history at the Wuhan Laboratory) regarding the origin of the virus, and the revelations of the dangerous experiments carried out in laboratories with low biosafety levels, have given strength to the hypothesis that the virus could have originated in a laboratory accident.
Diez recalled the letter of 18 experts published by the journal Science in May last year, among the signatories are Ralph Baric, a respected professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Dr. Shi Zhengli, who has devoted herself to studying bat coronaviruses and is recognized for being one of the leading scientists operating at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV.)
According to the journal, in 2015 Baric and Shi published a study where the “reverse genetics” technique was employed, where “a chimeric virus expressing the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014 in a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV backbone” was generated and characterized.
“Such an artificial pathogen was formed from the SARS virus backbone, to which the spike protein of another very similar bat coronavirus, called SHC014, that Dr. Shi Zhengli had found in a cave in Yunnan, was attached” ABC reads. “Such a protein is the hook that allows viruses to enter cells and infect them. Both that virus and another similar one, called WIV 1, were the closest relatives of SARS-CoV-1, the cause of the pandemic that between 2002 and 2003 had infected 8,000 people and, with a case fatality rate of 10%, had killed 774.”
In other words, Baris had experience working with “gain-of-function” experiments, questioned within the scientific community because, although they are carried out for apparently noble purposes, such as finding antidotes or vaccines against potentially deadly viruses, they are quite dangerous since they can provoke outbreaks of unknown viruses in the event of any accident or leakage.
In fact, Baris and Shi’s experiment, carried out in a BSL-3 laboratory (the second-highest in biosafety levels,) was questioned by scientists such as Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, and virologist Simon Wain-Hobson, of the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
Despite the criticism, Dr. Shi continued to conduct gain-of-function experiments, no longer with Baris, but with Peter Daszak, a British zoologist who is president of EcoHealth Alliance, the organization that received a major grant between 2014 and 2019 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
By NIH’s own admission, the grant was used for a “limited experiment” by EcoHealth that tested whether “spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were capable of binding to the human ACE2 receptor in a mouse model.”
However, the organization chaired by Daszak directed some $750,000 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as the zoologist and Dr. Shi worked storing and researching bat coronavirus samples collected from southwest China and nearby countries.
What ABC was able to reveal, according to a study published by Shi and Daszak in 2016, is that the scientists “created eight clones of the WIV1 virus to which they added the spikes of new coronaviruses found in bat caves and two of them ‘reproduced well’ in human cells.”
“Shi Zhengli and Peter Daszak did it in a BSL-2 category laboratory, the penultimate in security, to advance faster and with less cost in their investigations.”
Shi and Daszak’s study reads, “We have developed a fast and cost-effective method for reverse genetics.”
Of course, if already Baris and Shi’s experiments, conducted in a BSL-3 laboratory were questioned by the scientific community, a similar experiment in a laboratory with a lower level of security caused even greater alarm.
However, Shi and Daszak—who have consistently denied the possibility that COVID-19 was created in a lab—argued that they did not perform a gain of function because their intention was never to create more potent viruses.
“Officially, the closest virus kept in Wuhan is 96.4 % similar to the SARS-CoV-2 that has unleashed the pandemic and that indicates an evolution of four to five decades of natural mutations,” reads the ABC correspondent’s report. “To genetically create SARS-CoV-2, in theory it would take a virus that was 99 % identical.”
Beyond the official version, China’s reluctance to independent research, the certainty that dangerous experiments were conducted in laboratories with low safety standards, and the lack of evidence to prove the natural theory continues to generate doubts and suspicions within the scientific community.
The grant from the National Institutes of Health to EcoHealth Alliance drew scrutiny from GOP senators such as Rand Paul and Tom Cotton, as there is a possibility that the money could have been used for the controversial profit-making function.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, in fact, was splashed in this scandal because he knew about the grant to EcoHealth and also, according to emails revealed by The Telegraph, about the possibility that COVID-19 could have accidentally left a lab in Wuhan in February 2020, when the pandemic was starting.
Biologist Richard Ebright, in fact, publicly accused Dr. Fauci of publicly lying to Congress.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.
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