In an extensive literature review of the best available scientific evidence and other corroborating sources, Professor Ronald Wiesendanger, Head of the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center at Hamburg University, has asserted that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is the mostly likely source of the Coronavirus pandemic, counter to the findings of the WHO investigative team that recently traveled to Wuhan. While he does not assert that his year-long study is proof that the virus came from the lab in Wuhan, he cautions scientists against dismissing the lab as the source of the virus in future studies. The WHO investigative team suggested that scientists should focus on the hypothesis that Covid-19 came to Wuhan in frozen food, a hypothesis first publicized by the Chinese Communist Party.
The WHO team claimed that given the high security measures in place at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had accidentally been leaked from the lab. Prof. Wiesendanger points out that the investigation took place more than a year after the outbreak, and it is quite possible that security measures had been increased since then. He notes that leaks from such high security facilities are well documented. Additionally, U.S. diplomats had expressed concern over issues with security at the lab in diplomatic cables from 2018. One cable stated that: “During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, [inspectors] noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory”. Cell phone usage records in and around the lab in October 2019 showed that there was a temporary interruption to its operations, with barriers put in place around the laboratory. The first Covid-19 cases resulting in deaths have been traced to hospitals in Wuhan in October 2019. Video recordings show that staff at the lab were improperly disposing laboratory waste and wearing inadequate PPE when examining bat samples in the lab.
The lab has been at the forefront of Coronavirus research for many years, collecting samples of bat Coronaviruses from all over China and studying them. The lab engages in “gain of function” research in which they manipulate the viruses to make them more contagious and dangerous to humans, for the purpose of understanding the potential threats of future outbreaks. Wiesendanger discusses how Covid-19 is unlike any previous Coronavirus to infect humans. Covid-19 is far more contagious than the 2003 SARS Coronavirus, and has such a capability to infect human cells that it infects not only the respiratory tract, as with SARS, but also other internal organs, which has resulted in multiple organ failure in some patients, as well as long-term debilities for those who have recovered from the virus. Usually, when a bat Coronavirus becomes infectious to humans, it requires an intermediary host animal in which the virus can adapt to become infectious to humans. This process is referred to as “zoonosis”. The theory that Covid-19 became contagious to humans via zoonosis is the reason that the Huanan Wet Market in Wuhan has been focused upon so heavily as the likely source of the outbreak. However, no animal samples from the market have been found to contain Covid-19, and on this basis even the WHO investigative team has ruled out the wet market as the source of the outbreak. In addition, no host animal has been identified as the intermediary for Covid-19. Given this, the likelihood that Covid-19 gained its dangerous properties from gain of function research at the Wuhan lab is quite high. Wiesendanger has called into question the impartiality of the WHO team, given that one of its members, Peter Daszak had a professional relationship with the WIV as President of EcoHealth Alliance which is a research partner of the lab. This presents a clear conflict of interest.
Zheng-Li Shi, Director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the WIV, asserted in a paper submitted on Jan. 20, 2020 to the scientific journal Nature that the genome sequence of Covid-19 did not match any of the viruses that her team had on hand at the center. However, the genome sequence of Covid-19 was only published on Jan. 11, giving Zheng-Li and her team only nine days to compare the sequence to their records, and to write up and critically review the paper before submission. Wiesendanger doubts that this would have been possible. Given that the Chinese government has arrested and censured numerous doctors and journalists who reported unfavorably about the Coronavirus outbreak and the government’s response, it is entirely plausible that Zheng-Li fabricated the results out of fear. Moreover, one Coronavirus, “RaTG13”, which Zheng-Li’s team had been studying since 2013, is a 96% genetic match to Covid-19. It is entirely possible that this Coronavirus was manipulated through gain of function research to become Covid-19. The risk of gain of function research has been openly discussed for many years. In 2014, the Obama administration announced it would stop funding such research, and called on scientists to cease such research.
Many indications from Chinese social media point to a scientist at the WIV as being “patient zero” of the Covid-19 outbreak. Yanling Huang was a researcher at the lab since 2012, publishing six papers at the Institute’s address. Suspiciously, since the end of 2019, Ms. Yanling seems to have disappeared. Her profile has been scrubbed from the Institute’s website, and references to the Institute have been removed from her personal website. Neither Zheng-Li nor any other official from the WIV has been willing to answer questions related to Yanling Huang. The Chinese government has dismissed the question of Ms. Yanling as “rumors”, but refuse to provide any information of her whereabouts. The WIV has claimed that Yanling left the lab in 2015, but a group photo of laboratory staff from 2018 features the young scientist.
Researchers at the WIV have regularly used HIV-based pseudoviruses in their research (and here). A pseudovirus is a virus which has been manipulated to lose certain functions, allowing it to be used for specific research purposes. The use of HIV-based pseudoviruses is not unusual or particularly risky, but what is concerning is that a research team in New Dehli reported in a pre-print paper that HIV RNA genetic sequences had been found in their genetic analysis of Covid-19. French virologist Luc Montagnier, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on HIV, asserted in an interview that the New Dehli team’s findings suggest that Covid-19 was a virus manipulated in a lab. Two HIV drugs, Lopinavir and Ritonavir, have been found to be effective against Covid-19, as Covid shares a similar protease to HIV. A protease is an enzyme which breaks down proteins, allowing the virus to infect a cell. While proteases and RNA sequences are often common to many different viruses, the fact that these two features of HIV are common to Covid-19 suggests the possibility of gain of function manipulation of the virus.
Prof. Wiesendanger concludes that scientists should not dismiss the possibility that Covid-19 originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and that it escaped accidentally. Wiesendanger is not suggesting that China or the WIV should be blamed and punished for this, but rather that scientists need to discover the actual source of the pandemic to ensure such an outbreak doesn’t reoccur. One potential preventative measure would be to ban and cease gain of function research so that such dangerous viruses are not created in the first place. The purpose of this research is to allow us to prepare for these outbreaks, but considering none of the Institute’s research has been helpful in dealing with the pandemic, gain of function research is essentially redundant.