Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

Complications With The “Chinese-Lab-Did-It” Theory

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained HERE. The new dri­ve is a 32-giga­byte dri­ve that is cur­rent as of the pro­grams and arti­cles post­ed by the fall of 2017. The new dri­ve (avail­able for a tax-deductible con­tri­bu­tion of $65.00 or more.)

WFMU-FM is pod­cast­ing For The Record–You can sub­scribe to the pod­cast HERE.

You can sub­scribe to e‑mail alerts from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can sub­scribe to RSS feed from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

Please con­sid­er sup­port­ing THE WORK DAVE EMORY DOES.

U.S. Army Med­ical Research Insti­tute of Infec­tious Disease–located at Ft. Det­rick, part­nered with the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy, and closed by the CDC for safe­ty vio­la­tions in August, 2019.

COMMENT: Research into the his­to­ry of GOF (gain-of-func­tion) work on bat coro­n­avirus­es at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy indi­cates mul­ti­ple areas of U.S. intel­li­gence pres­ence in that work.

It was pub­licly dis­closed in a 2017 paper that the US and Chi­na col­lab­o­rat­ed on “gain-of-func­tion” research on bat coro­n­avirus­es to infect humans and that the work received fund­ing from the Unit­ed States Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Development–a fre­quent cut-out for the CIA.

In addi­tion, the work was also fund­ed in part by the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health, which have col­lab­o­rat­ed with both CIA and the Pen­ta­gon in BSL‑4 (Bio-Safe­ty-Lev­el 4) projects. 

The Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy has also part­nered with the USAMRIID since the mid-1980’s.

Impor­tant to note is the fact that it was pub­lic infor­ma­tion that some of this work was done in a biosafe­ty-lev­el 2 lab­o­ra­to­ry, giv­ing an observ­er intent on under­tak­ing a bio­log­i­cal war­fare covert oper­a­tion against Chi­na use­ful field intel­li­gence about the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of WIV for such an “op.”

  1. The inves­ti­ga­tion of infec­tiv­i­ty used unde­tectable meth­ods, negat­ing arti­cles claim­ing the virus could not have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered: ” Evi­dence has emerged that researchers at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy (WIV) in Chi­na, work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sci­en­tists in the USA, have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer­ing bat virus­es for the past sev­er­al years to inves­ti­gate infec­tiv­i­ty – using unde­tectable meth­ods. . . . The evi­dence rebuts claims by jour­nal­ists and some sci­en­tists that the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus respon­si­ble for the cur­rent COVID-19 pan­dem­ic could not have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered because it lacks the ‘signs’ or ‘sig­na­tures’ that sup­pos­ed­ly would be left behind by genet­ic engi­neer­ing tech­niques. . . .”
  2. Dr. Richard Ebright not­ed that the research was joint­ly fund­ed by the U.S. and Chi­na, that Peter Daszak (about whom we have voiced reser­va­tions in the past) was one of the Amer­i­can col­lab­o­ra­tors. Fur­ther­more, the research was fund­ed in part by USAID, a com­mon U.S. intel­li­gence cut-out. ” . . . . Dr Richard Ebright, an infec­tious dis­ease expert at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty (USA), has alert­ed the pub­lic to evi­dence that WIV and US-based researchers were genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer­ing bat virus­es to inves­ti­gate their abil­i­ty to infect humans, using com­mon­ly used meth­ods that leave no sign or sig­na­ture of human manip­u­la­tion. Ebright flagged up a sci­en­tif­ic paper pub­lished in 2017 by WIV sci­en­tists, includ­ing Shi Zhengli, the virol­o­gist lead­ing the research into bat coro­n­avirus­es, work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Peter Daszak of the US-based Eco­Health Alliance. Fund­ing was shared between Chi­nese and US insti­tu­tions, the lat­ter includ­ing the US Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health and USAID. The researchers report hav­ing con­duct­ed virus infec­tiv­i­ty exper­i­ments where genet­ic mate­r­i­al is com­bined from dif­fer­ent vari­eties of SARS-relat­ed coro­n­avirus­es to form nov­el ‘chimeric’ ver­sions. This formed part of their research into what muta­tions were need­ed to allow cer­tain bat coro­n­avirus­es to bind to the human ACE2 recep­tor – a key step in the human infec­tiv­i­ty of SARS-CoV­‑2. . . .”
  3. Fur­ther­more, the researchers used a type of genet­ic engi­neer­ing that leaves no sig­na­ture of human manip­u­la­tion: ” . . . . The WIV sci­en­tists did this, Ebright points out, ‘using ‘seam­less lig­a­tion’ pro­ce­dures that leave no sig­na­tures of human manip­u­la­tion’. This is note­wor­thy because it is a type of genet­ic engi­neer­ing that Ander­sen and his team exclud­ed from their inves­ti­ga­tion into whether SARS-CoV­‑2 could have been engi­neered – and it was in use at the very lab that is the prime sus­pect for a lab escape. . . .”
  4. In addi­tion, Ebright high­lights the 2015 work done by Ralph Bar­ic in col­lab­o­ra­tion with WIV’s Shi Zhengli–a project we have dis­cussed at length in the past: ” . . . . A group of sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na in the USA, with the WIV’s Shi Zhengli as a col­lab­o­ra­tor, pub­lished a study in 2015 describ­ing sim­i­lar exper­i­ments involv­ing chimeric coro­n­avirus­es, which were also cre­at­ed using stan­dard unde­tectable genet­ic engi­neer­ing tech­niques. . . .”
  5. Ebright also cites work done in a bio-safe­ty lev­el 2 lab­o­ra­to­ry. : ” . . . . Ebright points out that the paper states, ‘All work with the infec­tious virus was per­formed under biosafe­ty lev­el 2 con­di­tions’. This lev­el is suit­able for work involv­ing agents of only ‘mod­er­ate poten­tial haz­ard to per­son­nel and the envi­ron­ment’. . . . But they are not at fault in fail­ing to use BSL‑4 for this work, as SARS coro­n­avirus­es are not aerosol-trans­mit­ted. The work does, how­ev­er, fall under biosafe­ty lev­el 3, which is for work involv­ing microbes that can cause seri­ous and poten­tial­ly lethal dis­ease via inhala­tion. . . .”
  6. Dr. Jonathan Lath­am under­scored the reser­va­tions expressed by many con­cern­ing “gain-of-func­tion” exper­i­ments on these kinds of coro­n­avirus­es: ” . . . . The bio­sci­en­tist Dr Jonathan Lath­am crit­i­cised the kind of research on bat coro­n­avirus­es that has been tak­ing place in Wuhan and the USA as ‘pro­vid­ing an evo­lu­tion­ary oppor­tu­ni­ty’ for such virus­es ‘to jump into humans’. Lath­am, who has a doc­tor­ate in virol­o­gy, argues that this kind of work is sim­ply ‘pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for con­t­a­m­i­na­tion events and leak­ages from labs, which hap­pen on a rou­tine basis’. . . .”

Note, again, that the whole world was informed back in 2017 that  dan­ger­ous research involv­ing the cre­ation of bat coro­n­avirus­es to infect humans was being car­ried out in Chi­na.  Note again, that the research was fund­ed in part by the US, includ­ing USAID–a fre­quent U.S. intel­li­gence cut-out; the NIH–which has active­ly col­lab­o­rat­ed with both CIA and Pen­ta­gon. The WIV has also part­nered with the USAMRIID.

Flash for­ward a cou­ple of years and we have a night­mare virus that ini­tial­ly appeared to pop up near­by the WIV, with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion aggres­sive­ly push­ing the idea that it escaped from that lab.

In that con­text, we note the fol­low­ing:

  1. In 2017, Chi­na got approval for its first BSL‑4 lab in Wuhan, the first of sev­er­al planned BSL‑4 labs. “A lab­o­ra­to­ry in Wuhan is on the cusp of being cleared to work with the world’s most dan­ger­ous pathogens. The move is part of a plan to build between five and sev­en biosafe­ty level‑4 (BSL‑4) labs across the Chi­nese main­land by 2025, and has gen­er­at­ed much excite­ment, as well as some con­cerns. . . . Some sci­en­tists out­side Chi­na wor­ry about pathogens escap­ing, and the addi­tion of a bio­log­i­cal dimen­sion to geopo­lit­i­cal ten­sions between Chi­na and oth­er nations. [Ital­ics are mine‑D.E.] . . .”
  2. As will be seen below, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of BSL‑4 labs has sparked wor­ries about “dual use” tech­nol­o­gy: ” . . . . The expan­sion of BSL-4-lab net­works in the Unit­ed States and Europe over the past 15 years — with more than a dozen now in oper­a­tion or under con­struc­tion in each region — also met with resis­tance, includ­ing ques­tions about the need for so many facil­i­ties. . . .”
  3. The above-men­tioned Richard Ebright notes that the pro­lif­er­a­tion of BSL‑4 labs will spur sus­pi­cion of “dual use” tech­nol­o­gy, in which osten­si­ble med­ical research masks bio­log­i­cal war­fare research: ” . . . . But Ebright is not con­vinced of the need for more than one BSL‑4 lab in main­land Chi­na. He sus­pects that the expan­sion there is a reac­tion to the net­works in the Unit­ed States and Europe, which he says are also unwar­rant­ed. He adds that gov­ern­ments will assume that such excess capac­i­ty is for the poten­tial devel­op­ment of bioweapons. ‘These facil­i­ties are inher­ent­ly dual use,’ he says. . . .”

In the con­text of the above arti­cles, note again, that the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health have also part­nered with CIA and the Pen­ta­gon, as under­scored by an arti­cle about a BSL‑4 lab at Boston Uni­ver­si­ty:

  1. As the arti­cle notes, as of 2007, the U.S. had “more than a dozen” BSL‑4 labs–China com­mis­sioned its first as of 2017: ” . . . . Before the anthrax mail­ings of 2001, the Unit­ed States had just two BSL4 labs—both with­in the razor-wire con­fines of gov­ern­ment-owned cam­pus­es. Now, thanks to a ten­fold increase in funding—from $200 mil­lion in 2001 to $2 bil­lion in 2006—more than a dozen such facil­i­ties can be found at uni­ver­si­ties and pri­vate com­pa­nies across the coun­try. . . .”
  2. The Boston Uni­ver­si­ty lab exem­pli­fies the Pen­ta­gon and CIA pres­ence in BSL‑4 facil­i­ty “dual use”: ” . . . . But some sci­en­tists say that argu­ment obscures the true pur­pose of the cur­rent biode­fense boom: to study poten­tial bio­log­i­cal weapons. ‘The uni­ver­si­ty por­trays it as an emerg­ing infec­tious dis­ease lab,’ says David Ozonoff, a Boston Uni­ver­si­ty epi­demi­ol­o­gist whose office is right across the street from the new BSL4 facil­i­ty. ‘But they are talk­ing about study­ing things like small pox and inhala­tion anthrax, which pose no pub­lic health threat oth­er than as bioweapons.’ . . .  While the uni­ver­si­ty has repeat­ed­ly stat­ed that the new facil­i­ty will not house bioweapons research, that might not be a promise it can keep. The orig­i­nal NIH man­date for the lab indi­cat­ed that many groups—including the CIA and Depart­ment of Defense—would be allowed to use the lab for their own research, the nature of which BU might have lit­tle con­trol over. . . .”

In ear­ly August of 2019, short­ly before the record­ed start of the out­break in Wuhan, Chi­na, the U.S. Army Med­ical Research Insti­tute of Infec­tious Dis­eases at that facil­i­ty was closed down by the CDC due to mul­ti­ple safe­ty vio­la­tions. “All research at a Fort Det­rick lab­o­ra­to­ry that han­dles high-lev­el dis­ease-caus­ing mate­r­i­al, such as Ebo­la, is on hold indef­i­nite­ly after the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion found the orga­ni­za­tion failed to meet biosafe­ty stan­dards. . . . The CDC sent a cease and desist order in July. After USAMRIID received the order from the CDC, its reg­is­tra­tion with the Fed­er­al Select Agent Pro­gram, which over­sees dis­ease-caus­ing mate­r­i­al use and pos­ses­sion, was sus­pend­ed. That sus­pen­sion effec­tive­ly halt­ed all bio­log­i­cal select agents and tox­in research at USAMRIID . . . .”

USAMRIID has part­nered with the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy since the mid-1980s.

Offi­cials of the WIV allege that the genomes of the var­i­ous strains of SARS CoV‑2 cor­re­spond to those of virus­es stud­ied at the insti­tu­tion: ” . . . . The direc­tor of the WIV, Wang Yanyi, told Chi­na Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion last week­end that the new coro­n­avirus is genet­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from any kind of live virus that has been stud­ied at the insti­tute. Pri­or to that, WIV virol­o­gist Shi Zhengli — who col­lects, sam­ples, and stud­ies coro­n­avirus­es in Chi­nese bats — told Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can that she cross-ref­er­enced the new coro­n­avirus’ genome with the genet­ic infor­ma­tion of oth­er bat coro­n­avirus­es her team had col­lect­ed. They did­n’t find a match. . . .”

1.  “Wuhan and US sci­en­tists used unde­tectable meth­ods of genet­ic engi­neer­ing on bat coro­n­avirus­es” by Jonathan Matthews and Claire Robin­son; GMWatch; 05/20/2020

Evi­dence has emerged that researchers at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy (WIV) in Chi­na, work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sci­en­tists in the USA, have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer­ing bat virus­es for the past sev­er­al years to inves­ti­gate infec­tiv­i­ty – using unde­tectable meth­ods. The WIV is just a few miles from the Chi­nese city where the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic is thought to have orig­i­nat­ed and is the chief sus­pect in the pos­si­ble sce­nario that the virus emerged from a lab.

The evi­dence rebuts claims by jour­nal­ists and some sci­en­tists that the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus respon­si­ble for the cur­rent COVID-19 pan­dem­ic could not have been genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered because it lacks the “signs” or “sig­na­tures” that sup­pos­ed­ly would be left behind by genet­ic engi­neer­ing tech­niques.

Those mak­ing these claims cite as evi­dence a let­ter pub­lished in Nature Med­i­cine in March by Amer­i­can micro­bi­ol­o­gist Kris­t­ian Ander­sen and col­leagues. The arti­cle stat­ed that there was no evi­dence that the virus had been genet­i­cal­ly manip­u­lat­ed and con­clud­ed that it emerged through nat­ur­al muta­tion and selec­tion in ani­mal and human hosts.[1]

Typ­i­cal of the media response to the Nature Med­i­cine let­ter was an arti­cle pub­lished in The Sci­en­tist, which stat­ed, “there are no signs of genet­ic manip­u­la­tion in the SARS-CoV­‑2 genome”. The BBC also report­ed that “the study of the coro­n­avirus genome … found no signs it had been engi­neered”.

Oth­er experts, how­ev­er, have point­ed out that there are well known ways of manip­u­lat­ing the genet­ic mate­r­i­al of a virus with­out leav­ing any such signs.

Now Dr Richard Ebright, an infec­tious dis­ease expert at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty (USA), has alert­ed the pub­lic to evi­dence that WIV and US-based researchers were genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer­ing bat virus­es to inves­ti­gate their abil­i­ty to infect humans, using com­mon­ly used meth­ods that leave no sign or sig­na­ture of human manip­u­la­tion.

Ebright flagged up a sci­en­tif­ic paper pub­lished in 2017 by WIV sci­en­tists, includ­ing Shi Zhengli, the virol­o­gist lead­ing the research into bat coro­n­avirus­es, work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Peter Daszak of the US-based Eco­Health Alliance. Fund­ing was shared between Chi­nese and US insti­tu­tions, the lat­ter includ­ing the US Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health and USAID. The researchers report hav­ing con­duct­ed virus infec­tiv­i­ty exper­i­ments where genet­ic mate­r­i­al is com­bined from dif­fer­ent vari­eties of SARS-relat­ed coro­n­avirus­es to form nov­el “chimeric” ver­sions. This formed part of their research into what muta­tions were need­ed to allow cer­tain bat coro­n­avirus­es to bind to the human ACE2 recep­tor – a key step in the human infec­tiv­i­ty of SARS-CoV­‑2.

The WIV sci­en­tists did this, Ebright points out, “using ‘seam­less lig­a­tion’ pro­ce­dures that leave no sig­na­tures of human manip­u­la­tion”. This is note­wor­thy because it is a type of genet­ic engi­neer­ing that Ander­sen and his team exclud­ed from their inves­ti­ga­tion into whether SARS-CoV­‑2 could have been engi­neered – and it was in use at the very lab that is the prime sus­pect for a lab escape.

A group of sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na in the USA, with the WIV’s Shi Zhengli as a col­lab­o­ra­tor, pub­lished a study in 2015 describ­ing sim­i­lar exper­i­ments involv­ing chimeric coro­n­avirus­es, which were also cre­at­ed using stan­dard unde­tectable genet­ic engi­neer­ing tech­niques.

Dr Michael Anto­niou, a Lon­don-based mol­e­c­u­lar geneti­cist, told us that these meth­ods of genet­ic engi­neer­ing have been com­mon­ly used for decades and do not leave any kind of “sig­na­ture”. Com­ment­ing on Ander­sen and his team’s omis­sion of these meth­ods from their arti­cle in Nature Med­i­cine, Dr Anto­niou told us, “This shows that these authors’ con­clu­sions about whether genet­ic engi­neer­ing could have been involved are not jus­ti­fied by the avail­able evi­dence.”

Min­i­mal biosafe­ty

Richard Ebright also flagged up anoth­er paper by WIV sci­en­tists that rais­es con­cerns. In a just-pub­lished pre-print, they describe inves­ti­gat­ing the abil­i­ty of spike pro­teins from bat SARS-relat­ed CoV (SARSr-CoV), among oth­er coro­n­avirus­es, to bind to bat and human ACE2 recep­tors – in oth­er words, how effi­cient­ly they infect humans. Ebright points out that the paper states, “All work with the infec­tious virus was per­formed under biosafe­ty lev­el 2 con­di­tions”. This lev­el is suit­able for work involv­ing agents of only “mod­er­ate poten­tial haz­ard to per­son­nel and the envi­ron­ment”.

The high­est lev­el of biosafe­ty is lev­el 4 (BSL‑4). This is for work with agents that could eas­i­ly be aerosol-trans­mit­ted with­in the lab­o­ra­to­ry and cause severe to fatal dis­ease in humans for which there are no avail­able vac­cines or treat­ments. Because the WIV has a BSL‑4 lab, many have assumed that work like this on infec­tious bat coro­n­avirus­es linked to SARS, a close­ly relat­ed coro­n­avirus to SARS-CoV­‑2, was being con­duct­ed at the high­est BSL‑4 lev­el of biose­cu­ri­ty. Clear­ly, as the WIV researchers state, this was not the case. But they are not at fault in fail­ing to use BSL‑4 for this work, as SARS coro­n­avirus­es are not aerosol-trans­mit­ted.

The work does, how­ev­er, fall under biosafe­ty lev­el 3, which is for work involv­ing microbes that can cause seri­ous and poten­tial­ly lethal dis­ease via inhala­tion. So it seems inex­cus­able that it was car­ried out only at the rel­a­tive­ly low biosafe­ty lev­el 2, which, as Ebright says, “pro­vides only min­i­mal pro­tec­tions against infec­tion of lab work­ers”.

Evo­lu­tion­ary oppor­tu­ni­ty for virus­es to jump to humans

The bio­sci­en­tist Dr Jonathan Lath­am crit­i­cised the kind of research on bat coro­n­avirus­es that has been tak­ing place in Wuhan and the USA as “pro­vid­ing an evo­lu­tion­ary oppor­tu­ni­ty” for such virus­es “to jump into humans”. Lath­am, who has a doc­tor­ate in virol­o­gy, argues that this kind of work is sim­ply “pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for con­t­a­m­i­na­tion events and leak­ages from labs, which hap­pen on a rou­tine basis”.

Giv­en that lab acci­dents are com­mon, includ­ing in Chi­na where the SARS virus has escaped from high-lev­el con­tain­ment facil­i­ties mul­ti­ple times, the details emerg­ing about the research activ­i­ties of the WIV and US sci­en­tists again under­line the need for a cred­i­ble inde­pen­dent inves­ti­ga­tion of the most foren­sic kind into the ori­gins of the cur­rent pan­dem­ic. And a broad­er inves­ti­ga­tion is also need­ed into the full range of bio­log­i­cal threats aris­ing from var­i­ous areas of poten­tial­ly haz­ardous but lax­ly reg­u­lat­ed biotech­nol­o­gy research.

Notes

1. In the Nature Med­i­cine let­ter, Ander­sen and col­leagues didn’t actu­al­ly look for – and fail to find – a “sign” or “sig­na­ture” of genet­ic engi­neer­ing, akin to a call­ing card left by a vis­i­tor. That’s no sur­prise, as they doubt­less knew that such a search would have been futile. What they actu­al­ly said was that if genet­ic engi­neer­ing had been involved, the virus would be dif­fer­ent from how it is: it would have been designed in a more “ide­al” way for human infec­tiv­i­ty, based on the pre­dic­tions of their com­put­er mod­el­ling sys­tem.

There are mas­sive prob­lems with this argu­ment, as experts have point­ed out. Com­put­er mod­el­ling pro­grams are only as good as the data that are put into them by humans, so it is not valid to assume that the pro­gram – or the humans that designed it – knows what an “ide­al” virus would look like in real-world con­di­tions.

The let­ter also stat­ed that if some­one were try­ing to engi­neer the virus as a pathogen, they would “prob­a­bly” have con­struct­ed it from the back­bone of a virus already known to be infec­tive to humans (note that “prob­a­bly” leaves plen­ty of wrig­gle room for alter­na­tive meth­ods of con­struct­ing a virus). But it’s pos­si­ble that if it was engi­neered from a back­bone, it was one that is not known out­side their research group. This is pos­si­ble if secre­cy were involved – for exam­ple, for bioweapons/biodefence research or com­mer­cial vac­cine devel­op­ment. . . .

2. “Inside China’s pathogen lab Max­i­mum-secu­ri­ty biosafe­ty facil­i­ty nears approval, spark­ing excite­ment and con­cern.” by DAVID CYRANOSKI; Nature, Vol 542, pgs 300–401; 02/23/2017

A lab­o­ra­to­ry in Wuhan is on the cusp of being cleared to work with the world’s most dan­ger­ous pathogens. The move is part of a plan to build between five and sev­en biosafe­ty level‑4 (BSL‑4) labs across the Chi­nese main­land by 2025, and has gen­er­at­ed much excite­ment, as well as some con­cerns.

Some sci­en­tists out­side Chi­na wor­ry about pathogens escap­ing, and the addi­tion of a bio­log­i­cal dimen­sion to geopo­lit­i­cal ten­sions between Chi­na and oth­er nations. But Chi­nese micro­bi­ol­o­gists are cel­e­brat­ing their entrance to the elite cadre empow­ered to wres­tle with the world’s great­est bio­log­i­cal threats.

“It will offer more oppor­tu­ni­ties for Chi­nese researchers, and our con­tri­bu­tion on the BSL-4-lev­el pathogens will ben­e­fit the world,” says George Gao, direc­tor of the Chi­nese Acad­e­my of Sci­ences Key Lab­o­ra­to­ry of Path­o­gen­ic Micro­bi­ol­o­gy and Immunol­o­gy in Bei­jing. There are already two BSL‑4 labs in Tai­wan, but the Nation­al Bio-safe­ty Lab­o­ra­to­ry, Wuhan, would be the first on the Chi­nese main­land.

The lab was cer­ti­fied as meet­ing the stan­dards and cri­te­ria of BSL‑4 by the Chi­na Nation­al Accred­i­ta­tion Ser­vice for Con­for­mi­ty Assess­ment (CNAS) in Jan­u­ary. The CNAS exam­ined the lab’s infra­struc­ture, equip­ment and man­age­ment, says a CNAS rep­re­sen­ta­tive, paving the way for the Min­istry of Health to give its approval. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the min­istry says it will move slow­ly and cau­tious­ly; if the assess­ment goes smooth­ly, it could approve the lab­o­ra­to­ry by the end of June.

BSL‑4 is the high­est lev­el of bio­con­tain­ment: its cri­te­ria include fil­ter­ing air and treat­ing water and waste before they leave the lab­o­ra­to­ry, and stip­u­lat­ing that researchers change clothes and show­er before and after using lab facil­i­ties. Such labs are often con­tro­ver­sial. The first BSL‑4 lab in Japan was built in 1981, but oper­at­ed with low­er-risk pathogens until 2015, when safe­ty con­cerns were final­ly over­come.

The expan­sion of BSL-4-lab net­works in the Unit­ed States and Europe over the past 15 years — with more than a dozen now in oper­a­tion or under con­struc­tion in each region — also met with resis­tance, includ­ing ques­tions about the need for so many facil­i­ties.

The Wuhan lab cost 300 mil­lion yuan (US$44 mil­lion), and to allay safe­ty con­cerns it was built far above the flood plain and with the capac­i­ty to with­stand a magnitude‑7 earth­quake, although the area has no his­to­ry of strong earth­quakes. It will focus on the con­trol of emerg­ing dis­eases, store puri­fied virus­es and act as a World Health Orga­ni­za­tion ‘ref­er­ence lab­o­ra­to­ry’ linked to sim­i­lar labs around the world. “It will be a key node in the glob­al biosafe­ty-lab net­work,” says lab direc­tor Yuan Zhim­ing.

The Chi­nese Acad­e­my of Sci­ences approved the con­struc­tion of a BSL‑4 lab­o­ra­to­ry in 2003, and the epi­dem­ic of SARS (severe acute res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome) around the same time lent the project momen­tum. The lab was designed and con­struct­ed with French assis­tance as part of a 2004 coop­er­a­tive agree­ment on the pre­ven­tion and con­trol of emerg­ing infec­tious dis­eases. But the com­plex­i­ty of the project, China’s lack of expe­ri­ence, dif­fi­cul­ty in main­tain­ing fund­ing and long gov­ern­ment approval pro­ce­dures meant that con­struc­tion wasn’t fin­ished until the end of 2014.

The lab’s first project will be to study the BSL‑3 pathogen that caus­es Crimean–Congo haem­or­rhag­ic fever: a dead­ly tick-borne virus that affects live­stock across the world, includ-ing in north­west Chi­na, and that can jump to peo­ple.

Future plans include study­ing the pathogen that caus­es SARS, which also doesn’t require a BSL‑4 lab, before mov­ing on to Ebo­la and the West African Las­sa virus, which do. Some one mil­lion Chi­nese peo­ple work in Africa; the coun­try needs to be ready for any even­tu­al­i­ty, says Yuan. “Virus­es don’t know bor­ders.”

Gao trav­elled to Sier­ra Leone dur­ing the recent Ebo­la out­break, allow­ing his team to report the speed with which the virus mutat­ed into new strains (Y.-G. Tong et al. Nature 524,93–96; 2015). The Wuhan lab will give his group a chance to study how such virus­es cause dis­ease, and to devel­op treat­ments based on anti­bod­ies and small mol­e­cules, he says.

The oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­na­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tion, mean­while, will aid the genet­ic analy­sis and epi­demi­ol­o­gy of emer­gent dis­eases. “The world is fac­ing more new emerg­ing virus­es, and we need more con­tri­bu­tion from Chi­na,” says Gao. In par­tic­u­lar, the emer­gence of zoonot­ic virus­es — those that jump to humans from ani­mals, such as SARS or Ebo­la — is a con­cern, says Bruno Lina, direc­tor of the Vir­Path virol­o­gy lab in Lyon, France.

Many staff from the Wuhan lab have been train­ing at a BSL‑4 lab in Lyon, which some sci­en­tists find reas­sur­ing. And the facil­i­ty has already car­ried out a test-run using a low-risk virus.

But wor­ries sur­round the Chi­nese lab, too. The SARS virus has escaped from high-lev­el con­tain­ment facil­i­ties in Bei­jing mul­ti­ple times, notes Richard Ebright, a mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty in Pis­cat­away, New Jer­sey. Tim Tre­van, founder of CHROME Biosafe­ty and Biose­cu­ri­ty Con­sult­ing in Dam­as­cus, Mary­land, says that an open cul­ture is impor­tant to keep­ing BSL‑4 labs safe, and he ques­tions how easy this will be in Chi­na, where soci­ety empha­sizes hier­ar­chy. “Diver­si­ty of view­point, flat struc­tures where every­one feels free to speak up and open­ness of infor­ma­tion are impor­tant,” he says.

Yuan says that he has worked to address this issue with staff. “We tell them the most impor­tant thing is that they report what they have or haven’t done,” he says. And the lab’s inter­na­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tions will increase open­ness. “Trans­paren­cy is the basis of the lab,” he adds.

The plan to expand into a net­work height­ens such con­cerns. One BSL‑4 lab in Harbin is already await­ing accred­i­ta­tion; the next two are expect­ed to be in Bei­jing and Kun­ming, the lat­ter focused on using mon­key mod­els to study dis­ease.

Lina says that China’s size jus­ti­fies this scale, and that the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­bine BSL‑4 research with an abun­dance of research mon­keys — Chi­nese researchers face less red tape than those in the West when it comes to research on pri­mates — could be pow­er­ful. “If you want to test vac­cines or antivi­rals, you need a non-human pri­mate mod­el,” says Lina.

But Ebright is not con­vinced of the need for more than one BSL‑4 lab in main­land Chi­na. He sus­pects that the expan­sion there is a reac­tion to the net­works in the Unit­ed States and Europe, which he says are also unwar­rant­ed. He adds that gov­ern­ments will assume that such excess capac­i­ty is for the poten­tial devel­op­ment of bioweapons.

“These facil­i­ties are inher­ent­ly dual use,” he says. The prospect of ramp­ing up oppor­tu­ni­ties to inject mon­keys with pathogens also wor­ries, rather than excites, him: “They can run, they can scratch, they can bite.” . . . .

3. “High-Stakes Sci­ence” by Jeneen Inter­lan­di; Newsweek; 12/05/2007.

. . . . Before the anthrax mail­ings of 2001, the Unit­ed States had just two BSL4 labs—both with­in the razor-wire con­fines of gov­ern­ment-owned cam­pus­es. Now, thanks to a ten­fold increase in funding—from $200 mil­lion in 2001 to $2 bil­lion in 2006—more than a dozen such facil­i­ties can be found at uni­ver­si­ties and pri­vate com­pa­nies across the coun­try. . . .

. . . . But some sci­en­tists say that argu­ment obscures the true pur­pose of the cur­rent biode­fense boom: to study poten­tial bio­log­i­cal weapons. “The uni­ver­si­ty por­trays it as an emerg­ing infec­tious dis­ease lab,” says David Ozonoff, a Boston Uni­ver­si­ty epi­demi­ol­o­gist whose office is right across the street from the new BSL4 facil­i­ty. “But they are talk­ing about study­ing things like small pox and inhala­tion anthrax, which pose no pub­lic health threat oth­er than as bioweapons.” And when it comes to ter­ror­ism, Ozonoff says, more labs will only increase the threat of an attack. “There has been one seri­ous bioter­ror inci­dent,” he says. “That was anthrax, and it came from a biode­fense lab.” While the uni­ver­si­ty has repeat­ed­ly stat­ed that the new facil­i­ty will not house bioweapons research, that might not be a promise it can keep. The orig­i­nal NIH man­date for the lab indi­cat­ed that many groups—including the CIA and Depart­ment of Defense—would be allowed to use the lab for their own research, the nature of which BU might have lit­tle con­trol over. . . .

4. Wuhan Uni­ver­si­ty School of Basic Med­ical Sci­ences: Insti­tute of Med­ical Virol­o­gy

. . . . Since the midst of 1980’s, coop­er­at­ed with US Army Med­ical Research Insti­tute for Infec­tious Dis­eases . . .

5. “The Chi­nese CDC now says the coro­n­avirus did­n’t jump to peo­ple at the Wuhan wet mar­ket — instead, it was the site of a super-spread­er event” by Aylin Wood­ward [Busi­ness Insid­er]; Yahoo News; 5/28/2020.

. . . . .The direc­tor of the WIV, Wang Yanyi, told Chi­na Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion last week­end that the new coro­n­avirus is genet­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from any kind of live virus that has been stud­ied at the insti­tute. Pri­or to that, WIV virol­o­gist Shi Zhengli — who col­lects, sam­ples, and stud­ies coro­n­avirus­es in Chi­nese bats — told Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can that she cross-ref­er­enced the new coro­n­avirus’ genome with the genet­ic infor­ma­tion of oth­er bat coro­n­avirus­es her team had col­lect­ed. They did­n’t find a match.

“That real­ly took a load off my mind,” Shi said in March, adding, “I had not slept a wink for days.” . . .

Discussion

One comment for “Complications With The “Chinese-Lab-Did-It” Theory”

  1. At first and sec­ond glance, the report­ing here is not sync­ing up.

    Sci­en­tists trace 2002 Sars virus to colony of cave-dwelling bats in Chi­na
    10 Dec 2017

    Sci­en­tists have pin­point­ed a pop­u­la­tion of virus-infect­ed bats, which they have linked to the mys­te­ri­ous out­break of Sars dis­ease 15 years ago.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/10/sars-virus-bats-china-severe-acute-respiratory-syndrome#maincontent

    Dis­cov­ery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-relat­ed coro­n­avirus­es pro­vides new insights into the ori­gin of SARS coro­n­avirus
    30 Nov 2017

    How­ev­er, these bat SARSr-CoVs show sequence dif­fer­ences from SARS coro­n­avirus (SARS-CoV) in dif­fer­ent genes (S, ORF8, ORF3, etc) and are con­sid­ered unlike­ly to rep­re­sent the direct prog­en­i­tor of SARS-CoV.

    https://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1006698

    Now, we need USDA live­stock bills of sale to Chi­na cor­re­spond­ing with Trump’s so-called trade war.

    Got­ta do every­thing your­self these days.

    Posted by Melina Kyle | June 3, 2020, 8:46 pm

Post a comment