Cross-Party Reps Demand NIH Information on Deletion of New Crown Gene Sequence Data

Two cross-party U.S. House members sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Friday (July 9) asking the agency to explain the deletion of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) gene sequence data. They believe that the data may provide answers about the origin of the virus. Meanwhile, a recent poll shows that the American public’s views on the origin of the new coronavirus have changed significantly, with most Americans now believing that the virus was leaked from a Chinese laboratory.

U.S. Rep. S. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, said in a tweet Friday that he and U.S. Rep. Mark Green, a Republican from Tennessee, sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health “asking them to provide reported about the data on the COVID-19 sequence being removed from public databases. We need to ensure that our data is protected and secure, especially as we investigate the origin of the virus.”

The two lawmakers were the first to share the letter with The Hill.

Last month, Jesse Bloom, a virologist and principal investigator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, discovered that some new coronavirus gene sequences previously stored in an NIH database had been deleted. The NIH confirmed that they were removed at the request of the Chinese researcher who originally submitted the sequences.

In a paper, Bloom said he recovered 13 of the vanished viral gene sequences. His phylogenetic analysis of those sequences showed that the new coronavirus had spread in Wuhan, China, before the outbreak associated with the Wuhan South China Seafood Market in December 2019.

“Given that the true origin of SARS-CoV-2 remains a mystery, the NIH must provide a full explanation for the decision to remove information that could bring the world closer to a conclusion,” The Hill quoted Green and Krishnamodi as saying in the letter.

Emma Wojtowicz, a public affairs specialist at the National Institutes of Health, explained the reasons for removing the data in a June 24 e-mail response to a Voice of America inquiry.

She said, “These SARS-CoV-2 sequences were submitted to the Sequence Read Archive in March 2020 and subsequently withdrawn by request of the submitting investigator in June 2020. The requestor indicated that the sequence information had been updated, was being submitted to another database, and wanted the data removed from the sequence read archive to avoid version control issues.”

The agency said the investigators who submitted the data have rights to their data and can request that they be withdrawn.

The National Institutes of Health also told The Hill that staff “cannot speculate on motives other than the stated intent of the submitter.”

But the lawmakers wanted to know whether the NIH was evaluating their approval, whether the agency had a way to ensure that future deleted data would be preserved, and whether the agency could rule out any malicious intent on the part of the Chinese government.

In their letter, the two House members wrote:- “A comprehensive, scientific understanding of SARS-CoV-2 will allow us to properly respond to current pandemics and prevent future pandemics.”

Josh Hawley, a Republican U.S. senator from Missouri, also sent a letter June 24 to U.S. health officials asking them to answer why vital data on the earliest diagnosed patients with the new crown disappeared from the National Institutes of Health’s database.

A joint investigation by a team of experts from the World Health Organization and China on the source of the new coronavirus in China in March concluded that the virus was probably transmitted to humans through animals and that a laboratory leak was “highly unlikely. But there are now calls for a new independent investigation into the source of the new crown, including the possibility that the virus came from a laboratory leak.

Meanwhile, a new poll conducted by Politico, a U.S. political news site, in conjunction with Harvard University, shows that most Americans now believe that the New Crown virus was leaked from a lab in China. The survey found a dramatic shift in the U.S. public’s perception of the origin of the new coronavirus over the past year.

The survey found that among U.S. adults, almost twice as many are likely to say the virus was leaked from a laboratory in China compared to those who are likely to say the virus was transmitted to humans through animals. The idea that the virus was leaked from a lab, which was initially more of a non-mainstream idea among right-wingers, is now accepted by most Republicans and most Democrats.

The POLITICO-Harvard poll, to be released next week, also found that almost two-thirds of Democrats and Republicans believe it is “extremely” or “very” important to investigate the origin of the new coronavirus.

On Wednesday, a group of 20 top experts from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere said in a preprinted paper that has not been officially published that the new coronavirus almost certainly originated in an animal, not a laboratory leak.

President Joe Biden on May 26 directed U.S. intelligence agencies to increase efforts to try to identify the origin of the new coronavirus.

At the president’s request, U.S. intelligence agencies began an investigation in March, and according to a report received by the White House in May, the agencies then formed a consensus around two “possible scenarios” for how the pandemic began: the virus either originated from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.

President Biden announced that he had asked the intelligence community to “redouble its efforts” for the possibility of reaching a clearer conclusion and to report back to him in 90 days.