News Release

Origins of Pandemic * Dangers of Labs * Bioweapons Arms Race


JONATHAN LATHAM, jrlatham at, @BioSRP
Executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project, Latham said today: “Everyone wants to know how a bat coronavirus got into humans. That is to say, how did this virus make the leap from not infecting humans at all to being a virulent pathogen. There almost has to have been some kind of intermediate host and many observers have seen the exotic animal trade as the probable intermediary. As time has gone on, however, evidence to support Wuhan’s Huanan ‘wet’ market as the location for this has weakened since the very earliest known patient had no specific connection to it. Equally, a plausible animal intermediary species has not emerged either. With very little, and sometimes no evidence at all, snakes, civets, and pangolins have been suggested. At the very same time, it has emerged that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), just eight miles from the epicenter, has a large collection of bat coronaviruses and was actively working on them. Moreover, like quite a few virologists, I have strong concerns about coronavirus recombinant DNA research in general, about gain-of-function and passaging research in particular, and about the competence and safety record of BSL-4 labs around the world. Given as well the proximity between the lab, I agree with Professor [Nikolai] Petrovsky who was quoted by the Australian Science Media Centre: ‘this either is a remarkable coincidence or a sign of human intervention’ i.e. that it was research at the WIV that bridged the gap.”

SAM HUSSEINI, samhusseini at, @samhusseini
Husseini is an independent journalist. He asked the CDC’s Principle Deputy Director Anne Schuchat if it was a “complete coincidence” that the outbreak happened in Wuhan given the presence of labs there. The questioning was at a news conference at the now-shuttered National Press Club on Feb. 11. (See writeup, video and audio here.)

In a new in-depth piece published by Salon “Did This Virus Come From a Lab? Maybe Not — but It Exposes the Threat of a Biowarfare Arms Race,” he writes: “While much of the media and political establishment have minimized the threat from such lab work, some hawks on the American right like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have singled out Chinese biodefense researchers as uniquely dangerous.

“But there is every indication that U.S. lab work is every bit as threatening as that in Chinese labs. American labs also operate in secret, and are also known to be accident-prone. …

“‘Biodefense’ implies tacit biowarfare, breeding more dangerous pathogens for the alleged purpose of finding a way to fight them. While this work appears to have succeeded in creating deadly and infectious agents, including deadlier flu strains, such ‘defense’ research is impotent in its ability to defend us from this pandemic. …

“Following the Ebola outbreak in west Africa in 2014, the U.S. government paused funding for what are known as ‘gain-of-function’ research on certain organisms. This work actually seeks to make deadly pathogens deadlier, in some cases making pathogens airborne that previously were not. With little notice outside the field, the pause on such research was lifted in late 2017. …

“During this pause, exceptions for funding were made for dangerous gain-of-function lab work. This included work jointly done by U.S. scientists from the University of North Carolina and Harvard and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This work — which had funding from USAID and EcoHealth Alliance not originally acknowledged — was published in 2015 in Nature Medicine. …

“At least one Chinese government official has responded to the allegation that the labs in Wuhan could be the source for the pandemic by alleging that perhaps the U.S. is responsible instead. … Obviously the Chinese government’s allegations should not be taken at face value, but neither should U.S. government claims — especially considering that U.S. government labs were the apparent source for the anthrax attacks in 2001. Those attacks sent panic through the U.S. and shut down Congress, allowing the Bush administration to enact the PATRIOT Act and ramp up the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, in October 2001, media darlings like Richard Butler and Andrew Sullivan propagandized for war with Iraq because of the anthrax attacks.

“The 2001 anthrax attacks also provided much of the pretext for the surge in biolab spending since then, even though they apparently originated in a U.S. or U.S.-allied lab. Indeed, those attacks remain shrouded in mystery.” Husseini is also senior analyst with the Institute for Public Accuracy.