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Is this proof of lab leak lies? New documents reveal how leading scientists manipulated the truth

Why did Fauci lie about gain-of-function research in Wuhan? (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Why did Fauci lie about gain-of-function research in Wuhan? (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)


September 10, 2021   5 mins

There are many things we still do not know about the origins of this pandemic — including the central issue of whether it began with natural spillover from animals or some kind of laboratory incident. But we do know one thing now beyond debate: speculative “gain-of-function” experiments on mutant bat viruses were taking place in Wuhan laboratories.

This research, carried out in labs that did not have maximum level of biosafety, was increasing the infectivity of laboratory-created diseases by constructing chimeric coronaviruses — despite strong denial of such practices by the key Chinese scientists. And the bio-engineering was being funded by United States taxpayers — channelled through a charity run by a British scientist — despite similar denials from America’s most senior public health officials that they supported such science fiction activities in Chinese labs.

The details have been confirmed by the latest batch of documents emerging under US freedom of information rules — which unlike in Britain, actually assist attempts to break through walls of official obfuscation. The Intercept obtained 900 pages of documents detailing two research grants in 2014 and 2019 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to EcoHealth Alliance. This is the charity headed by Peter Daszak, the controversial Briton who led efforts to squash “conspiracy theories” about a possible lab incident after spending years hunting viruses with Shi Zhengli, the now-famous “Batwoman” expert at Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

Some of these grant details have emerged previously — but these documents include the original proposals along with project updates, so significantly flesh out what we knew. They highlight how US funding bodies outsourced risky gain-of-function research to China, even over a three-year period between 2014 and 2017 when it was banned in their own nation. They also show, with new clarity, the kind of work taking place in secretive Wuhan labs. These disclosures fuel the mystery over the pandemic origins, while also sparking fresh concerns over top scientists in both China and the West who sought to suppress inquiries into the lab leak hypothesis.

A $3.1m grant, according to the documents, was awarded to understand “the risk of bat coronavirus emergence” through screening thousands of samples collected from the nocturnal creatures. This included a chunk of funding worth $599,000 for WIV. Bear in mind that three months ago, Shi, director of its Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, angrily protested over the world “pouring filth on an innocent scientist” when emphatically refuting that they carried out gain-of-function work. “My lab has never conducted or co-operated in conducting GOF experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses” she told the New York Times.

According to NIH “the term gain-of-function research describes a type of research that modifies a biological agent so that it confers new or enhanced activity to that agent”. Analysis of these papers show US funds supported construction of new chimeric Sars-related coronaviruses, which combined a spike gene from one with genetic material from another — and then showed the resulting creation could infect human cells and mice engineered to display human-type receptors on their cells.

One new virus had increased pathogenicity over the original virus and three new viruses increased viral load in lung tissues up to ten thousandfold, which is most definitely “enhanced activity.” As scientists pointed out to me, these results demonstrated increased pathogenicity of SARSr-CoVs with different spike proteins in humanised mouse models. And similar construction work was proposed to be done with another type of deadly pathogen — the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, which first flared up in Jordan nine years ago after spilling over from camels and has since cropped up in 27 countries, causing 858 deaths.

So yet again it seems Shi — probably under intense pressure from the Communist regime — has been manipulating not just bat viruses but the truth over her lab’s activities. Just like when she claimed a database containing 22,000 virus sequences and samples was taken offline due to hacking in the pandemic when it disappeared on September 12, 2019 — several weeks before infections emerged in Wuhan and months before global attention turned on her lab. Or when the name of the most closely-related virus to Sars-CoV-2 — the strain of virus that causes Covid-19 — was changed in a key scientific paper, thus masking ties to three miners who died in 2012 from a strange respiratory condition while clearing out a copper mine in southern China.

Yet she is not the only key player in this drama telling porkies. Anthony Fauci, the US infectious diseases expert and presidential adviser, insisted earlier this year that his country “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology”. His stance led to a furious clash in Congress with Senator Rand Paul, who gleefully tweeted after The Intercept published its article on the papers: “Surprise surprise – Fauci lied again. And I was right about his agency funding novel coronavirus research at Wuhan.”

Paul was backed by Richard Ebright, the bio-security expert and professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, who has long been a fierce critic of such work since he argues that the risks of creating new diseases in laboratories vastly outweigh any potential benefits. “The documents make it clear that assertions by Anthony Fauci and the NIH Director, Francis Collins that the NIH did not support gain-of-function research or potential pandemic pathogen enhancement at WIV are untruthful,” he said.

There are many fascinating nuggets in these papers such as discussion  of isolating coronaviruses using “transformed bat cell lines” from nine different species. “We have used these for virus isolation, infection assays and receptor molecule gene cloning.” Monali Rahalkar, an Indian microbiologist, said it was clear after combing through the details how such collaborative research could lead to something such as Sars-Cov-2. “And these are just two projects,” she said. “There were other projects and additionally the ones going on in China sponsored by their government.”

Buried in the documents are two more intriguing details. First, the experimental work creating mutant chimeric coronaviruses was carried out at WIV’s biosafety level 2 lab and then the work analysing them in humanised mice performed at the biosafety level 3 Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, not at the new maximum level 4 WIV lab built with French assistance. The cluster of labs at the university hospital, incidentally, includes a breeding centre that created at least 1,000 types of genetically engineered animals from mice to monkeys. So this means the details in the papers accord with a previous statement by Shi that their coronavirus research is “conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories” — although a level 2 lab has, some say, barely higher safety standards than a dental clinic and certainly few safeguards against an lethal airborne virus.

Yet this is where the puzzle intensifies. For six months ago David Asher, who led State Department investigations into the origins, told a Washington seminar the first “known cluster that we’re aware of, of victims of what we believe to be Covid’ were three people who fell sick at a BSL 3 lab within a week of each other.

“There is a possibility it was influenza,” he said. “But I’m very doubtful that three people in highly protected circumstances in a level three laboratory working on coronaviruses would all get sick with influenza that put them in a hospital or in severe conditions all in the same week, and it didn’t have anything with the coronavirus. That’s highly hard to believe. From that point forward, it certainly seemed to have started to spread within their community.”

Second, while Daszak has been condemning supposed conspiracy theories and defending his friends in China with whom he has collected thousands of samples, his own charity was pointing out the major risk of accidental infection faced by researchers when collecting such specimens in a project he led. “Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled. There is also some risk of exposure to pathogens 
while handling bats, civets, rodents or other animals, their blood samples or their excreta.”

It is, at last, largely accepted that there are two plausible theories behind this public health catastrophe, so perhaps these revelations have more political than scientific consequence. Even Peter Ben Embarek, the Danish food scientist who led the dismal World Health Organisation study trip to Wuhan earlier this year, recently admitted the possibility that a field incident sparked the pandemic was “a likely hypothesis”.

He told a documentary there might have been “human error” somewhere but this could not be admitted inside China’s repressive autocracy. “The whole system focuses a lot on being infallible, and everything must be perfect. Somebody could also wish to hide something. Who knows?” The engima has not been cracked but these are small steps forward in the search for the pandemic origins.


Ian Birrell is an award-winning foreign reporter and columnist. He is also the founder, with Damon Albarn, of Africa Express.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

I’ve said it before but I’ll keep on saying it: Kudos to Ian Birrell, and other courageous journalists, for so doggedly pursuing this story. They’re up against the entire US and Chinese establishment who don’t want the truth to emerge.

Max Price
Max Price
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Sharri Markson, a young Aussie journalist has been leading this.
https://www.amazon.com.au/What-Really-Happened-Wuhan-Infections-ebook/dp/B094GHJK9L

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Massive kudos to Birrell. He’s been on the money from the get-go.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

So, basically, the Chinese created a Frankenstein virus, were too incompetent to keep it bottled, let it escape, and every scientific, political, media and academic institution in the west conspired with them — on the taxpayer’s dime — to cover it up and brand anyone who questioned the narrative a tin-foil nutter? I hate to break it to the elite and the…sorry, I have to repress a snigger when I say this.. “intelligentsia” that the public were waaaay ahead of you on this one.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago

Because common sense is racist


Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Excellent analysis. It is unfortunate though that many of the actors responsible will never bear any accountability for their actions, including directly lying to Congress several times over.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

They must be held accountable or no public health figure will ever be believed again-and that would be a bad thing for the West in future scenarios. Next time there is s health event people will just say no en masse and that will be that……………Asia will be left to repopulate the planet !

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Yes, but if you are being consistently lied to who do you believe or is the smart move to dis-believe everything coming out of government, and that includes health officials

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
2 years ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Who would hold them accountable? They’re running the show.

Ludo Roessen
Ludo Roessen
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Look at the disastrous years since 1900 and see who has been held accountable for their monstrous actions…. none…. from finance to war to health to hell…. etc. etc. etc. etc.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ludo Roessen
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Yet so many civilians must be wearing blinkers, because they still doggedly continue to believe the line taken by large, compromised organisations.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Like the Biden Administration.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Those being lied to wanted to hear lies. There can be no accountability.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Let’s hope that Fauci goes to prison. He is a lying, disgusting piece of garbage who loves the cameras way too much….

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

Another brilliant outcome of globalisation! Outsource dangerous research projects to the third world. What could go wrong?

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

‘Third World’ feels like the wrong description for China. There are many intelligent, capable scientists in China and there is no lack of funding or equipment. They can compete with any ‘First World’ nation. The problems are with their attitudes and behaviours.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

Yes, you are right – I hesitated writing that. But definitely the standards and transparency are lower than the US (or Britain, Japan, France etc) or they wouldn’t have offshored the work there. But I agree, they are not Cameroon or Mongolia. Maybe Second World?

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

My own view is that they transcend the taxonomy
and not in a good way!

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

The whole first/second/third world thing is obsolete, now that much of the old third world is doing quite fine economically. I think you wanted ‘outsource dangerous research projects to secretive closed totalitarian regimes’ but that is putting my words in your mouth, so …

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

Well, true to some extent and certainly that’s the image the CCP always want to put over. But virus research at lab level 2?! That is almost asking for a lab leak to occur. As I can’t believe they intended to kill their own population (if for no other reason than prestige rather than their love of humankind), it shows utter cavalier incompetence on a huge scale

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Or it could be a case of different priorities and different norms. Maybe they considered it an acceptable risk?

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

…it’s all about access to the monkeys.

brewster bruce
brewster bruce
2 years ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

pls expand your comment. do you think that research was outsourced from the NIH to China lab because using monkeys for research is very difficult in the U.S.?

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

Aside from ‘steps in making a bio-weapon’, what was it that the scientists performing gain of function research into infectious diseases were hoping to learn? And why is it so hard to ban this sort of research?

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
2 years ago

Create benefits for the world population at large of course. EcoHealth Alliance is a charitable institution. And why is it so hard so ban this sort of research? Because Ignorance is Knowledge.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

Donald Trump was cancelled for suggesting this might be a possibility.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

The Taliban can tweet but Trump cannot. As I first heard from Freddie on UnHerd, “the inconceivable has become the inevitable.” So true.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago

Potential conspiracies, accidents and cover-ups aside, why do scientists do this kind of stuff? Trust ‘the science’? Trust it for what? Disgusting.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Well, one reason might be to “weaponize” a virus for biological war. So happy to learn that NIH is funding this potential “weaponization” with our Chinese friends. Oh, wait, did I say Chinese friends–I meant to say our Chinese adversary. I think it fair to say that tons of $ goes into weapons research, writ large. Isn’t “gain of function” a type of “weaponization,” at least potentially? I’m sure the Chinese could only use it for peaceful purposes though….

Diane Tasker
Diane Tasker
2 years ago

Wouldn’t it be great to have a health watchdog, benefitting from, say, a $B5.1/2 operating fund, consisting of zillions of highly qualified and rewarded scientists, to keep a nose to the ground and a finger on the scientific ‘pulse’ when it comes to what’s going on and where. A watchdog who, when our neighbours are playing around with biological fireworks that could imperil the world’s health, fearlessly, call them out? Who? Oh
.do you mean that highly paid obsequious bunch who ‘inspected’ (I use the term loosely) ‘a’ lab – but not ‘the’ lab which nonetheless was good enough for them to opine that there was no monkey (or should I say Chiroptera) business going on there!

John Hicks
John Hicks
2 years ago

“Gain of function?” What function? Those life saving, life improving, getting better ethical functions of Hippocratic Oath Takers declared through the ages? Or have Hypo

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

Follow drastic. Their twitter feeds are very informative. I’ve learned a lot about GOF and coronavirus studies the last 18 months. Dr Baric is probably the mad genius behind this. His research papers are readily available. It is a bit hard to decipher at first but as you get informed and used to the language it starts to make sense. It is also terrifying to read. Baric, Daszak, Fauci, Zhengli, Gates are up to their necks in this. Gates’s event 201 is very fortunate timing. I honestly don’t think it was a lab leak. I think it was released on purpose. That is an impolite thing to say and nobody wants to bring it up… but it seems like the most likely scenario. This is biowarfare. https://drasticresearch.org/

Last edited 2 years ago by Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon