Newly released internal documents and letters related to a 2018 coronavirus research proposal reveal scientists’ concerns that the Chinese lab — now the center of the COVID-19 lab leak theory — would be viewed by U.S. officials as a safety risk.
Drafts and notes for a grant proposal called the DEFUSE project, co-authored by American researchers and scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Published by Right to Know USA Monday through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The proposal, which was ultimately rejected and denied funding by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), was put forward by the now-controversial EcoHealth consortium and sought to test engineer bat coronaviruses in a way that would make them more easily transmitted to humans. .
The researchers proposed introducing “appropriate human-specific cleavage sites” into the spike proteins of SARS-related viruses in the laboratory.
The draft proposal was announced in 2021 and sparked speculation that the coronavirus pandemic may have been caused by infected laboratory technology or improper disposal of hazardous waste from the Wuhan facility.
Now, letters and notes between the proposal’s authors as well as early drafts released this week add another layer to the theory.
According to the new documents, the researchers planned to conduct part of the research in a Wuhan laboratory where safety precautions were not up to US standards, according to the nonprofit US Public Health Research Group.
Ralph, Zingley. “If we win this contract, I am not proposing that all of this work necessarily be done by Ralph, but I do want to emphasize the US side of this proposal so that DARPA feels comfortable with our team,” Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance wrote to researcher Ralph. Barrick is a resident of North Carolina and a scientist in Wuhan at the Center for Laboratory Leak Theory, Zingli Shi.
“Once we get the money, we can then allocate who does the exact work, and I think a lot of these tests could be done in Wuhan as well…”
He also said he wanted to “downplay” Chinese involvement in the research in hopes of securing funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
“I plan to use my resume and Ralph’s,” Daszak wrote. “Linfa/Zingli, I realize your resume is impressive as well, but I’m trying to minimize the non-U.S. focus in this proposal so that DARPA doesn’t see that as a negative.”
In an earlier version of the draft proposal, researchers said the project would be “extremely cost-effective” because it would only require a laboratory with a biosafety level of two (BSL-2), on a scale of one to four with four. (BSL-4) is the most stringent level of safety standards.
“The nature of BSL-2 action on SARSr-CoVs makes our system very cost-effective compared to other bat virus systems (e.g. Ebola, Marburg, Hendra, and Nipah), which require BSL-4 level facilities for cell culture.
The proposal was later edited and BSL-2 was changed to BSL-3, noting that the lower level of biosafety standards would “likely intimidate” American scientists.
“In the United States, recombinant SARS-CoV is being studied under BSL3, not BSL2, which is particularly important for those able to attach to and replicate in primary human cells,” Parikh commented on the original document. “In China (sic), these viruses may be growing [sic] Under BSL2. American researchers [sic] He’ll probably freak out.”
DARPA never funded the research and the work was never carried out, the EcoHealth Alliance said in a statement Tuesday.
“As the work has not been selected for funding, any assertions about these details are by definition based on a review of incomplete information and are highly misleading,” the statement read.
But some scientists said they had seen enough to believe laboratory techniques were responsible for the global pandemic two years after the draft proposal was rejected.
“This latest leak makes the case of a lab leak almost certain,” biologist Matt Ridley said on Twitter. “A reckless experiment, known at the time as reckless, may have caused the deaths of millions of people. Scientists and the media conspired to hide the evidence.”
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