Newly released documents detail how the U.S. government reportedly funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where the COVID-19 outbreak began.
The documents were obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit and contain previously undisclosed information from the National Institute of Health (NIH).
“The Intercept has obtained more than 900 pages of documents detailing the work of EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S.-based health organization that used federal money to fund bat coronavirus research at the Chinese laboratory,” The Intercept wrote. “The trove of documents includes two previously unpublished grant proposals that were funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as project updates relating to EcoHealth Alliance’s research, which has been scrutinized amid increased interest in the origins of the pandemic.”
“The bat coronavirus grant provided EcoHealth Alliance with a total of $3.1 million, including $599,000 that the Wuhan Institute of Virology used in part to identify and alter bat coronaviruses likely to infect humans,” The Intercept added. “Even before the pandemic, many scientists were concerned about the potential dangers associated with such experiments. The grant proposal acknowledges some of those dangers: ‘Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled.’”
Molecular biologist Alina Chan told The Intercept that the documents show EcoHealth Alliance should take the theory that COVID-19 originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology seriously.
“In this proposal, they actually point out that they know how risky this work is. They keep talking about people potentially getting bitten — and they kept records of everyone who got bitten,” Chan said. “Does EcoHealth have those records? And if not, how can they possibly rule out a research-related accident?”
Dr. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, told The Intercept after reviewing the documents, “The viruses they constructed were tested for their ability to infect mice that were engineered to display human-type receptors on their cell.”
Ebright also said that the documents show that two different types of coronaviruses were able to infect humanized mice. “While they were working on SARS-related coronavirus, they were carrying out a parallel project at the same time on MERS-related coronavirus,” Ebright said.
Ebright added more detail later on Twitter.
“The materials show that the 2014 and 2019 NIH grants to EcoHealth with subcontracts to WIV funded gain-of-function research as defined in federal policies in effect in 2014-2017 and potential pandemic pathogen enhancement as defined in federal policies in effect in 2017-present,” Ebert wrote. “The materials confirm the grants supported the construction — in Wuhan — of novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses that combined a spike gene from one coronavirus with genetic information from another coronavirus, and confirmed the resulting viruses could infect human cells.”
“The materials reveal that the resulting novel, laboratory-generated SARS-related coronaviruses also could infect mice engineered to display human receptors on cells (‘humanized mice’),” he added. “The materials further reveal for the first time that one of the resulting novel, laboratory-generated SARS-related coronaviruses — one not been previously disclosed publicly — was more pathogenic to humanized mice than the starting virus from which it was constructed and thus not only was reasonably anticipated to exhibit enhanced pathogenicity, but, indeed, was *demonstrated* to exhibit enhanced pathogenicity.”