Left-leaning journalists who don't like where this story is going may struggle to dismiss the author given his establishment credentials. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists describes him this way:
Nicholas Wade is a science writer, editor, and author who has worked on the staff of Nature, Science, and, for many years, the New York Times.The former Timesman writes:
The virus that caused the pandemic is known officially as SARS-CoV-2, but can be called SARS2 for short. As many people know, there are two main theories about its origin. One is that it jumped naturally from wildlife to people. The other is that the virus was under study in a lab, from which it escaped... it seems to me that proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favor natural emergence.Mr. Wade describes a key Chinese researcher whose work received support from Dr. Fauci's institute via a U.S. group called EcoHealth Alliance:
Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China's leading expert on bat viruses, Shi Zheng-li or "Bat Lady," mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses...
It cannot yet be stated that Shi did or did not generate SARS2 in her lab because her records have been sealed, but it seems she was certainly on the right track to have done so. "It is clear that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was systematically constructing novel chimeric coronaviruses and was assessing their ability to infect human cells and human-ACE2-expressing mice," says Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and leading expert on biosafety.Mr. Wade then details at length why he believes a lab-created virus in this case is much more likely than a natural one. His case in the following paragraphs contains much jargon but his argument is clear: The scourge was particularly suited to attack humans and yet there's little if any evidence showing a natural evolution from a virus that attacks bats to a virus that attacks people:
It's documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses. What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2's creation?
Proponents of natural emergence have a rather harder story to tell... No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2, if indeed it ever infected bats. No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals. There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did. There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved. There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else. There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons. The natural emergence theory battles a bristling array of implausibilities.There seems to be some debate about whether the Wuhan coronavirus work really did involve "gain-of-function" research — genetically engineering viruses to attack people under the premise that such research assists in learning how to counter future threats. In February the website PolitiFact reported, "All parties involved in the grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology have denied that it involved gain-of-function research." PolitiFact attributed a quotation to the National Institutes of Health, the parent agency of Dr. Fauci's organization:
The NIH told us: "The research supported under the grant to EcoHealth Alliance Inc. characterized the function of newly discovered bat spike proteins and naturally occurring pathogens and did not involve the enhancement of the pathogenicity or transmissibility of the viruses studied."But PolitiFact also stated:
MIT biologist Kevin Esvelt reviewed a paper that appears to have been published with financial assistance from the grant. According to Esvelt, certain techniques that the researchers used seemed to meet the definition of gain-of-function research.This column contacted the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases this afternoon on this issue and a spokesperson says, "We'll get back to you." This column will be updated if NIAID comments. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) wrote to Dr. Fauci on Wednesday in search of some answers:
The State Department has detailed several concerning revelations, including that the U.S. government has reason to believe several researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) became sick in autumn 2019 with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, before the first public cases emerged in that community...
How much U.S. government funding has gone to the WIV over time, and how much of that supported gain-of-function research? Did U.S. government funding go to the WIV even during the 2014-2017 U.S. moratorium on funding gain-of-function research?On Thursday the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), and two Republican colleagues on the committee wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to "request that the U.S. Department of State release unclassified documents and declassify other documents for public release, as appropriate, related to the assertion in the Department's January 15, 2021 Fact Sheet that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in Wuhan, China collaborated with the Chinese military in conducting classified research, including laboratory animal experiments."
Did any of the results of those experiments leave the lab and make their way around the world?
James Freeman is the co-author of "The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival."