Report shows scientists from China, US planned to create new coronaviruses in 2018

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By Ifeanyi Ibeh, with Agency Reports

An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. The laboratory is among a handful of labs around the world cleared to handle Class 4 pathogens – dangerous viruses that pose a high risk of person-to-person transmission. Photo by AFP

Scientists from the Chinese city of Wuhan and the United States planned to mix the genetic codes of other viruses to create novel coronaviruses that did not exist in nature, proposals show.

According to UK newspaper, The Telegraph, documents of a grant application submitted to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), leaked in September, reveal that the international team of scientists planned to blend genetic data of closely related strains and grow completely new viruses.

The proposal was submitted on behalf of the Daszak EcoHealth Alliance, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the University of North Carolina, and Duke NUS in Singapore by the British zoologist Peter Daszak.

Daszak, currently a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the pandemic’s origins, was also behind a letter published in The Lancet which dismissed suggestions that Covid did not have a natural origin as a conspiracy theory.

The plans made in the DARPA documents included inserting a section into existing viruses to make them more infectious to humans and inoculating wild bats with aerosolised engineered spike proteins from viruses.

According to The Telegraph, a genetics expert with the WHO, who discovered the plan after studying the proposals in depth, said that if Sars-CoV-2 was created in this way, it would explain why a close match has never been found in nature.

Banal-52, which was discovered in Laos last month and shares 96.8 per cent of the genome with Sars-CoV-2, is the closest naturally occurring virus so far. However, scientists expect a direct ancestor to be a 99.98 per cent match – and none has yet been discovered.

The DARPA proposals, which were leaked to the DRASTIC pandemic origins analysis group, show that the team intended to use sequences from naturally occurring coronaviruses to create a new sequence that was an average of all the strains.

The grant application, submitted in 2018, according to The Telegraph, states: “We will compile sequence/RNAseq data from a panel of closely related strains and compare full length genomes, scanning for unique SNPs representing sequencing errors.

“Consensus candidate genomes will be synthesised commercially using established techniques and genome-length RNA and electroporation to recover recombinant viruses.”

A WHO collaborator, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, explained the proposal as follows: “This means that they would take various sequences from similar coronaviruses and create a new sequence that is essentially the average of them. It would be a new virus sequence, not a 100 per cent match to anything.

“They would then synthesise the viral genome from the computer sequence, thus creating a virus genome that did not exist in nature but looks natural as it is the average of natural viruses.

“Then they put that RNA in a cell and recover the virus from it. This creates a virus that has never existed in nature, with a new ‘backbone’ that didn’t exist in nature but is very, very similar as it’s the average of natural backbones.”

According to the report, the source said it was noteworthy that the cut-off for generating such an average sequence was viruses that only had five per cent genetic divergence from each other.

Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology announced in 2020 that they discovered RaTG13, a 96.1 per cent match to Sars-CoV-2, in bat droppings in a cave in Yunnan province in 2013. RaTG13 may have been included in a collection of viral genomes to aid in the creation of an average sequence.

Despite the fact that the grant proposal was turned down in 2018, the Wuhan database of viral strains was taken offline 18 months before the Covid outbreak, making it impossible to determine which viruses the team was working on or had created. Wuhan scientists have consistently denied creating Sars-CoV-2 in a laboratory.

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