By Frances Mulraney and Glenn Owen, Apr 12, 2020 | Original Daily Mail article here.
Coronavirus may have leaked from lab performing experiments on bats from Chinese caves
- The US National Institutes of Health, a government agency, awarded a $3.7 million research grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology on coronavirus transmission in the lab over the past decade
- The lab experimented on bats from the source of the coronavirus
- They were captured more than 1,000 from Chinese caves
- Sequencing of the Covid-19 genome has traced it to bats from Yunnan’s caves
The Chinese laboratory at the center of scrutiny over a potential coronavirus leak has been using U.S. government money to carry out research on bats from the caves which scientists believe are the original source of the deadly outbreak. The Wuhan Institute of Virology undertook coronavirus experiments on mammals captured more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan which were funded by a $3.7 million grant from the US government.
Sequencing of the COVID-19 genome has traced the virus back to bats found in Yunnan caves. It was first alleged to have transferred to humans at an animal market in Wuhan, but that story is not credible. The revelation that the Wuhan Institute was experimenting on bats from the area already known to be the source of COVID-19 — and doing so with American money.
Lawmakers and pressure groups were quick to lash out at U.S. funding for the ‘dangerous and cruel animal experiments at the Wuhan Institute’.
A laboratory at the center of scrutiny over the coronavirus pandemic has been carrying out research on bats from the cave which scientists believe is the original source of the outbreak.
Workers are seen next to a cage with mice inside the BSL-4 laboratory in Wuhan. It has been revealed that the lab also carried out research on bats from the source location of COVID-19.
The institute is located only 20 miles from the food market where it was originally alleged that the outbreak began. Some experts continue to say that the virus was transmitted from animal to human and was not lab engineered in China as some conspiracy theories have claimed.
US Congressman Matt Gaetz said:
"I’m disgusted to learn that for years the US government has been funding dangerous and cruel animal experiments at the Wuhan Institute, which may have contributed to the global spread of coronavirus, and research at other labs in China that have virtually no oversight from US authorities."
On Saturday, Anthony Bellotti, president of the US pressure group White Coat Waste, condemned his government for spending tax dollars in China, adding: ‘Animals infected with viruses or otherwise sickened and abused in Chinese labs reportedly may be sold to wet markets for consumption once experiments are done.’
The $37 million Wuhan Institute of Virology, the most advanced laboratory of its type on the Chinese mainland, is based twenty miles from the now infamous wildlife market that was thought to be the location of the original transfer of the virus from animals to humans.
According to documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday, scientists there experimented on bats as part of a project funded by the US National Institutes of Health, which continues to licence the Wuhan laboratory to receive American money for experiments.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), pictured, has criticized U.S. funding of research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology after it emerged that experiments were being conducted on bats from Yunnan, the location experts believe to be the original source of deadly COVID-19.
Anthony Bellotti, the founder and National Campaign Manager of the White Coat Waste Project, slammed the use of US funding to perform experiments on bats in Wuhan
China clamps down on research into the origins of coronavirus as officials demand the right to vet scientific papers
China is clamping down on research into the origins of the coronavirus after officials have demanded the right to inspect its scientific papers before they are made public. Two websites for leading Chinese universities have allegedly recently published and then removed pages that discuss a new policy which requires academic papers about COVID-19 to undergo extra checks before they are published, according to The Guardian.
Both Fudan University and the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) allegedly posted notices saying that research on the origins of the coronavirus will be subject to government checks.
The director of the SOAS China Institute in London, Professor Steve Tsang, said that the Chinese government is more concerned with ‘controlling the narrative’ surrounding coronavirus than public health or economic fallout. The source who found the cached versions of the websites said they were concerned at what appeared to be a governmental coverup.
The NIH is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and public health research. The Wuhan Institute lists them on their website as a partner as well as several other American academic institutions. Other U.S. partners include the University of Alabama, the University of North Texas, Harvard University, and the National Wildlife Federation.
As part of the NIH research at the institute, scientists grew a coronavirus in a lab and injected it into three-day-old piglets. The news that COVID-19 bats were under research there means that a leak from the Wuhan laboratory can no longer be completely ruled out. Neither can an intentional release of SARS-CoV-2 at the Wuhan Military games in October, 2019.
A second institute in the city, the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control – which is barely three miles from the market – is also believed to have carried out experiments on animals such as bats to examine the transmission of coronaviruses. The Wuhan Institute, which keeps more than 1,500 strains of deadly viruses, specializes in the research of ‘the most dangerous pathogens’, in particular the viruses carried by bats.
Chinese officials decided to build the institute after the country was ravaged by an outbreak of SARS in 2002 and 2003. SARS, another kind of coronavirus, killed 775 people and infected more than 8,000.
Bats have been linked with seven major epidemics over the past three decades.
Some theorize that the virus, formally known as SARS-CoV-2, could be a biological warfare weapon engineered there. Others suspect that it escaped from the lab. China has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory, Wuhan Institute of Virology. The institute is at the center of several controversial conspiracy theories that claim it is to blame for the coronavirus outbreak.
A worker is seen inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province in February 2020. It is feared COVID-19 may have leaked from a lab sparking the outbreak
Shi Zhengli, a deputy director of the institute, told the press in February that she ‘guaranteed with her own life’ that the outbreak was not related to the lab. She admits that when summoned back from a conference to investigate the new disease, she wondered at first if a coronavirus could have escaped from her unit.
She has warned about the danger of epidemics from bat-borne viruses. But she says she did not expect such an outbreak in Wuhan, in the center of China, since her studies suggested subtropical areas in the south had the highest risk of such ‘zoonotic’ transmission to humans.
Shi told the respected science journal Scientific American last month of her relief when, having checked back through disposal records, none of the genome sequences matched their virus samples.
"That really took a load off my mind. I had not slept a wink for days," she said.
Many international experts have also dismissed such theories. Dr Keusch, Professor of Medicine and International Health at Boston University’s Schools of Medicine and Public Health, stressed that no release of viruses from a high-level lab, such as the one in Wuhan, ‘has ever happened’.
He defended his peers in the Chinese city as he said: "The Wuhan lab is designed to the highest standards with redundant safety systems and the highest level of training."
"Many of its research faculty trained at a similar laboratory in Galveston, Texas. So we know the Wuhan team is as qualified as the Texas group . . . This means the assertion of a leak, rather than being highly likely, instead is highly unlikely."
Last week, further doubt was cast on the animal market theory, however, after Cao Bin, a doctor at the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, highlighted research showing that 13 of the first 41 patients diagnosed with the infection had not had any contact with the market.
"It seems clear that the seafood market is not the only origin of the virus," he said.
American biosecurity expert Professor Richard Ebright, of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology, New Jersey, said that while the evidence suggests COVID-19 was not created in one of the Wuhan laboratories, it could easily have escaped from there while it was being analyzed. Prof Ebright said he has seen evidence that scientists at the Centre for Disease Control and the Institute of Virology studied the viruses with only ‘level 2’ security – rather than the recommended level 4 – which ‘provides only minimal protections against infection of lab workers’.
He added: ‘Virus collection, culture, isolation, or animal infection would pose a substantial risk of infection of a lab worker, and from the lab worker then the public.’ He concluded that the evidence left ‘a basis to rule out [that coronavirus is] a Chinese lab construct, but no basis to rule out a Chinese lab accident’.
Results of the U.S-funded research at the Wuhan Institute were published in November 2017 under the heading: ‘Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus.’ The study was summarized as: ‘Bats in a cave in Yunnan, China were captured and sampled for coronaviruses used for lab experiments.
"All sampling procedures were performed by veterinarians with approval from the Animal Ethics Committee of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Bat samplings were conducted ten times from April 2011 to October 2015 at different seasons in their natural habitat at a single location (cave) in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. Bats were trapped and faecal swab samples were collected."
Another study, published in April 2018, was titled ‘fatal swine acute diarrhea syndrome caused by an HKU2-related coronavirus of bat origin’ and described the research as such: ‘Following a 2016 bat-related coronavirus outbreak on Chinese pig farms, bats were captured in a cave and samples were taken. Experimenters grew the virus in a lab and injected it into three-day-old piglets.
Intestinal samples from sick piglets were ground up and fed to other piglets as well. The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 108,000 people and infected over 1.7 million worldwide.’
On Saturday, the American outbreak became the deadliest in the world over 2,000 deaths in a day. The national deaths toll is 20,087 and there are 522,643 confirmed cases as of Saturday evening.
China muzzled its Bat Woman
Beijing authorities hushed up the findings of a scientist who unlocked the genetic make-up of the coronavirus within days of the outbreak – which is vital for tests and vaccines. A Chinese scientist who is the one of the world’s leading experts on coronaviruses was ‘muzzled’ after unraveling the genetic composition of the new disease, which is crucial for developing diagnostic tests and vaccines.
The revelation will fuel fresh concerns over China‘s cover-up of the pandemic after it erupted in the city of Wuhan. Critics argue that Communist Party chiefs frustrated efforts to contain the outbreak before it exploded around the world.
At the centre of the new claims is Shi Zhengli, known as China’s ‘Bat Woman’ after years spent on difficult virus-hunting expeditions in dank caves that have led to a series of important scientific discoveries. The virologist was called back to her highsecurity laboratory in Wuhan at the end of last year after a mysterious new respiratory condition in the city was identified as a novel coronavirus – and within three days she completed its gene sequencing.
A virology lab like the one Shi Zhengli completed the gene sequencing of the coronavirus.
Her team’s work, and several other breakthroughs in subsequent days, indicated the virus was linked to horseshoe bats found more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan, a region of southern China. Their findings showed it was similar to SARS, a respiratory disease that sparked an epidemic in 33 countries after emerging from China in 2002.
Gao Yu, a Chinese journalist freed last week after 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan, said he spoke to Shi during his incarceration and revealed: ‘We learned later her institute finished gene-sequencing and related tests as early as January 2 but was muzzled.’
The Mail on Sunday has learned that on that same day, Yanyi Wang, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, sent an email to staff and key officials ordering them not to disclose information on the disease.
She warned, according to a leak on social media confirmed by activists and Hong Kong media, that ‘inappropriate and inaccurate information’was causing ‘general panic’ – thought to refer to eight whistle-blowing doctors whose warnings to local citizens had led to their arrest.
Wang said the National Health Commission ‘unequivocally requires that any tests, clinical data, test results, conclusions related to the epidemic shall not be posted on social media platforms, nor shall [it] be disclosed to any media outlets including government official media, nor shall [it] be disclosed to partner institutions.’
Eight days later, a team led by a professor in Shanghai who received samples from an infected patient, published a genome sequence on an open access platform.
His laboratory was closed for ‘rectification’ two days later.
Shi Zhengli is known as China’s ‘Bat Woman’ after years spent on difficult virus-hunting expeditions in dank caves that have led to a series of important scientific discoveries.
At the time, the public was being told that no new cases had been reported in Wuhan for more than a week and there was no clear evidence of human transmission, although dozens of health workers were starting to fall ill with the disease.
In an online lecture last month, Shi Zhengli said her team found on January 14 that the new virus could infect people – six days before this fact was revealed by China. On the same day, the World Health Organization issued a tweet backing China’s denials of human transmissions.
Shi’s team released its data identifying the disease on January 23 on a scientific portal before publication the next month by the journal Nature. It said the genomic sequence was 96 per cent identical to another virus they found in horseshoe bats in Yunnan.
Shi is a specialist in emerging diseases and has earned global acclaim for work investigating links between bats and coronaviruses, aided by expeditions to collect samples and swabs in the fetid cave networks of southern China.
She was a key part of the team that traced SARS to horseshoe bats through civets, a cat-like creature often eaten in China.