The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research in China that created a more potent form of a bat coronavirus, according to newly disclosed documents.
An experiment conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, situated near where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, compared mice infected with the original bat coronavirus to mice infected with a modified strain created by researchers, according to the documents.
The mice infected with the modified version “became sicker than those infected” with the original version, Lawrence Tabak, the principal deputy director at the NIH, told lawmakers in letters (pdf) on Oct. 20.
The “limited experiment” was aimed at seeing if “spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were capable of binding to the human ACE2 receptor in a mouse model,” Tabak wrote, adding that the “unexpected result” was not “something that the researchers set out to do.”
Whether intended or not, the research fits the definition of gain-of-function, some experts say.
“The genetic manipulation of both MERS and the SARS conducted in Wuhan clearly constituted gain-of-function experiments,” Jonathan Latham, executive director of The Bioscience Research Project, told The Epoch Times in an email. “Further, it is absurd of NIH to describe the enhanced viral pathogenicity that was observed in the experiments they funded as ‘unexpected’ when clearly these experiments were expressly designed to detect increased pathogenicity.”
The NIH “corrects untruthful assertions by NIH Director Collins and NIAID Director Fauci that NIH had not funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan,” Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist with Rutgers University, wrote on Twitter.
The newly released documents primarily consist of the fifth and final progress report (pdf) for the series of grants. The report was submitted on Aug. 3, over two years after the research concluded.
EcoHealth’s final report also contained a description of experimenting on clones of MERS-CoV, a virus that caused an outbreak in the Middle East in 2012 and has a mortality rate of approximately 35 percent, according to the World Health Organization.
The scientists said they used a “similar reverse genetics strategy” that they utilized in studies of the bat coronaviruses and, after constructing a “full-length infectious clone of MERS-CoV,” they replaced the receptor binding domain of the virus with domains from various strains of coronaviruses identified in bats from southern China.