Lab Leaks: Scientists Need to See the Evidence

President Joe Biden issued a statement Wednesday (May 26) calling on U.S. intelligence agencies to step up their efforts to gather and analyze intelligence on the origin of the new coronavirus and to report back to him within 90 days with an analysis of whether the new coronavirus is of natural origin or a laboratory accident. To prove or rule out the laboratory leak theory would require an exhaustive and credible investigation of the extensive chain of evidence of Wuhan laboratory personnel, facilities, and serum samples, the scientists told VOA. And “all of this will require the cooperation of China.”

President Biden said in a statement that the relevant U.S. national laboratories and other relevant government agencies are expected to assist the U.S. intelligence community in its efforts. At the same time, Washington will continue to work with like-minded partners around the world to urge Beijing to participate in the international investigation and to provide all relevant data and evidence.

U.S. scientists support this initiative by President Biden, arguing that intelligence gathering and analysis is important and can provide an evidentiary trail for scientific investigations; however, traceability efforts and scientific conclusions about any virus must be based on solid scientific evidence, not on belief or assumption. None of the possibilities can be completely ruled out until any solid and credible evidence is found.

No possibility can be ruled out and the virus lab leak narrative is reintroduced

In addition to the medical and scientific media, some news outlets have confused the “laboratory synthesis” theory of NIV with the “laboratory leak” theory when talking about laboratory leaks of NIV.

The first thing to clear up here is that the hypothesis of a “laboratory synthesis” of the new coronavirus has been “nearly irrefutably” proven by the scientific community as early as the early 2020s, not by bioengineering in a laboratory, or by any country or entity as a It was not biologically engineered in a laboratory or deployed as a biological weapon by any country or entity.

At that time, WHO sent a team of experts to China to investigate, numerous international scientists collaborated to study and analyze the new coronavirus, and peer-reviewed studies were published in internationally recognized medical and scientific journals.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a statement on April 30, 2020, endorsing this conclusion. The statement said, “The intelligence community also shares the broad scientific consensus that the new coronavirus is not artificially produced or genetically modified and synthesized.”

This statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence also noted that the U.S. intelligence community will continue to actively review emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the new coronavirus outbreak, which began through exposure to infected animals, or an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, was triggered.

The consensus among international scientists, including U.S. scientists, at the time was that the data and information available at the time did not provide any evidence that the virus had been leaked from the Wuhan laboratory, but nothing could be ruled out until there was scientific evidence.

A senior scientist at the U.S. federal health agency, who requested anonymity at the time, said in an interview with Voice of America, “The chances of a leak from a top-level biosafety laboratory should be very small; but it’s not unheard of, as the Sars virus (SARS) leaked from a laboratory once in 2004.”

The World Health Organization said on April 26, 2004, that the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China had so far resulted in eight confirmed or suspected cases and hundreds of people in quarantine against the disease, including two researchers who were involved in research on the virus at a research laboratory in Beijing, records show.

Scientists: We need to see this evidence

The Wall Street Journal on Monday (May 24) cited “a previously unpublished piece of U.S. intelligence” that three staff members of the Wuhan Institute of Virus Research had developed serious illnesses and sought medical treatment in hospitals in November 2019.

In fact, the incident was widely reported by international media, including Chinese media, more than a year ago, in April 2020. At the time, there was public concern that the sick researchers might have been exposed to the virus at work, thus causing social transmission. However, the immediate concern and investigation at the time did not focus on this incident, but rather on the hypothesis that the virus was synthesized and intentionally transmitted.

The incident was mentioned in an interview with NBC in March 2021 by Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the most recent WHO investigation team to Wuhan. In the fall of 2019, some Wuhan Virus Institute staff did get sick, but the Chinese side provided records of these researchers testing negative for the virus, evidence that did not point to a lab leak, said Gibbermans.

Numerous studies were published by numerous international scientists at the time, and the generally accepted conclusion of the virus research community at the time was that science had come close to irrefutably proving that the virus was not synthesized by any scientist in a laboratory through bioengineering, nor could it have been deployed as a biological weapon by any country.

To scientifically prove or rule out the theory that these Wuhan Virus Institute researchers caused the virus leak, then, would require a very detailed, credible and wide-ranging chain of evidence, virologists and medical scientists told Voice of America.

Scientists believe that if the possibility of an accidental laboratory leak is to be considered and investigated, there are generally no more than two scenarios: first, a researcher is exposed to the virus in a laboratory and becomes infected, and then comes into contact with others outside the laboratory, leading to the spread of the virus; second, the laboratory facility itself accidentally leaks the virus, largely due to suboptimal biosafety practices and laboratory waste disposal practices.

Therefore, to prove whether Wuhan Virus Institute staff caused the spread of the new coronavirus, Erin Sorrell, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Security, believes that two simple facts need to be checked first to prove that “Wuhan Virus Institute was working on this particular strain of virus and the lab did not have ideal biosecurity and safety measures in place, which led to the accidental escape of the virus; or the lab staff was exposed to the virus and infected in the lab due to improper handling, and the virus was spread to others in Wuhan after infection.”

Richard Zhao, a virologist and professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland (UMD), was elected in 2019 to the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) for his outstanding contributions to HIV and Zika virus research Richard Zhao, a professor of microbiology and immunology, was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology in 2019 for his outstanding contributions to HIV and Zika research.

Yuqi Zhao told VOA that to prove or disprove the theory of an accidental laboratory leak of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) would undoubtedly require conclusive evidence that.

“that the virus was found and quarantined in the laboratory or facility; that the virus was found and quarantined in a location near the laboratory or facility; that staff associated with the laboratory were infected with the virus prior to the start of the outbreak; and that staff associated with the laboratory had antibodies to the virus in their bodies prior to the start of the outbreak. “

In addition to that, Zhao Yuqi said, to make a solid conclusion proving that it was the Wuhan Virus Institute staff member who became ill in November 2019 who transmitted the neo-coronavirus, the following conditions had to be met: “The staff member associated with the laboratory had clinical symptoms characteristic of neo-coronavirus infection; the RT-PCR diagnostic test of the staff member associated with the laboratory was positive; the neo-coron The virus was isolated from laboratory-associated staff; and antibodies to the new coronavirus were produced in these sick staff members.”

Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Rutgers University (Rutgers), agrees with Yuqi Zhao. He told Voice of America that finding such evidence as mentioned above would require a credible medical investigation of the virus lab in Wuhan.

Ebright laid out a list of such leads: Access to relevant records, samples, personnel and facilities at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the Wuhan CDC (WCDC), and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products (WIBP) would be required; and electronic and paper records would need to be examined, and samples in freezers and refrigerators would need to be examined. Interviews with personnel are required, including former and current construction, maintenance, cleaning, disposal, safety, animal facilities, laboratory and management personnel. It also includes serum samples from the personnel involved, as well as an investigation of environmental sampling of the facility.

“All of this, of course, requires the cooperation of China,” Ebright said.

Independent investigation could start in U.S.

Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar of health security at Johns Hopkins University, told Voice of America that the international community needs to be able to obtain records from the Wuhan Institute of Virology to comprehensively document and catalog what viruses were already being studied at what point in time at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Adalia said it is also important to look at the medical records of staff members to determine if those researchers who are working on the virus and have been exposed to it, have ever been infected by it.

“The most important thing is that the Chinese government must be transparent in this matter. The lack of transparency and the confusing nature of information from the Chinese government may prevent us from truly understanding the origins of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and could hinder human efforts to prepare for the next pandemic,” he said.

According to published reports and research literature, the Wuhan Virus Institute was not engaged in research on the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and other closely related viruses prior to the outbreak of the new coronavirus. The Wuhan Institute of Virus has publicly stated that the latest virus under study is the RaTG13 virus. This is a virus carried by bats that is similar to the “Sars” virus.

In February, Professor Roland Wiesendanger, a nanoscientist at the University of Hamburg in Germany, released the findings of a new coronavirus study that “the current pandemic stems from a laboratory accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virus Research in China. In a press statement, the University of Hamburg said, “There are many direct indications that the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pathogen came from a laboratory and refers to a young researcher (Yanling Huang) at the Wuhan Institute for Virus Research as the first person to be infected.”

Ebright, a Rutgers student chemist, said it is a critical step to find out if the Wuhan Virus Institute and other Wuhan-based virus labs are working on, or stocked with, the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and other more similar viruses.

Public health experts generally agree that investigation and forensics for the traceability of the new coronavirus will rely primarily on the cooperation and support of the Chinese government. However, Ebright told Voice of America that while it is crucial to win the cooperation of the Chinese, the U.S. could start by looking for evidence and clues from potentially important investigation targets in the U.S. if it were to launch an independent investigation.

Ebright argued that the U.S. Congress has the power to issue subpoenas to these U.S. targets of investigation without obtaining cooperation from the Chinese side. These U.S. targets include the Wuhan Virus Institute’s contractors, collaborators, and co-author organizations (EcoHealth Alliance).

“In addition, the Wuhan Institute and the EcoHealth Alliance’s funding agencies: the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and the Wuhan Institute and EcoHealth Alliance’s publisher (Springer-Nature and Lancet),” he said.

A long way to go for virus traceability

President Biden’s statement Wednesday directed U.S. intelligence agencies to work to gather and analyze information and intelligence about the origin of the 2019 new coronavirus and to draw more definitive conclusions about whether the new coronavirus is of natural origin or began in a laboratory accident.

Public health experts believe that while the Trump administration has been emphasizing an investigation into the Wuhan virus institute, it has not pushed for any substantive investigation and has only shifted the blame to the World Health Organization (WHO), assuming that the Wuhan virus institute is the culprit and accusing WHO of helping Beijing cover up the truth.

In contrast, President Biden’s current drive to trace the virus back to its source is an open-minded investigation that demonstrates the White House’s conviction that it is important to determine the origin of the new coronavirus that killed nearly 600,000 Americans. However, the Biden administration does not believe there is sufficient evidence to irrefutably prove either of the “natural origin” or “laboratory accident” theories.

A number of scientists, including some of the most prominent in the field, have come forward to challenge the WHO’s March 30 report on the traceability of the new coronavirus, which concluded that a laboratory leak was “highly unlikely.

The 18 scientists said in an open letter published May 13 in the journal Science that there is not enough evidence to determine whether a natural origin or an accidental laboratory leak caused the new coronavirus pandemic.

In the letter, the international panel of 18 biologists, immunologists and other scientists criticizes the World Health Organization’s report on the origin of the outbreak and calls for a broader and deeper investigation of the two main viral origin hypotheses.

University of Maryland virologist Yuqi Zhao told VOA that the scientific community does not yet have the information we need to conclude one way or the other whether the virus was a naturally occurring event or a leak from the Wuhan Virus Institute laboratory.

“But I want to emphasize that critical data and evidence can only be obtained through an objective and independent investigation with the participation of the international community,” Zhao Yuqi said.

Only by finding the original origin of the virus can we facilitate a better understanding of the new coronavirus causing the current outbreak and trace the footprint of the viral genome sequence, including possible intermediate and original hosts. However, this is a long, arduous and complex task that can sometimes take nearly a century.

Yuqi Zhao emphasized that we do not yet have any evidence that any scenario is a fact. Unless we have confirmed some of the evidence mentioned above, I don’t think we can draw any conclusions one way or the other at this point.

“Science is based on evidence, not on belief or assumption,” he said.