Author: Billwilliam Reviewer: Irene
On January 15, the US State Department under Secretary Mike Pompeo published a fact sheet alleging that the Wuhan Institute of Virology collaborated with the PLA and that Communist China engaged in secret, undisclosed biological weapons projects. Although the fact sheet didn’t explicitly point out COVID-19 as a bioweapon, it revealed Communist China has bioweapon projects in violation of international law. This series of articles will explain the contents of an official textbook written by a Chinese military medical university in 2015, titled “The Unnatural Origin of SARS-1 and the Man-made Human Virus as a Genetic Bioweapon“, which probably serves as the PLA’s biowarfare guideline. This article summarizes the major points of Chapter 1, and other important chapters will be explained in future articles.
This book is ostensibly written for combatting bioterrorism, but a much larger portion of the book is devoted to concepts in the development of novel bioweapons and biowarfare strategies rather than counterterrorism. Besides, most terrorist groups such as ISIS don’t have access to advanced biological techniques or equipment to adopt the concepts depicted in this book, so we question the motivation of this book. The PLA probably uses this book’s concepts for developing new bioweapons.
Communist China’s biowarfare strategy is drastically different from the concepts by Western countries. The West usually envisions a bioweapon designed for release in times of war against enemy soldiers. For instance, a biological warhead can be delivered by guided missiles or other munitions over enemy bases to kill or incapacitate their soldiers as quickly as possible. The PLA’s biowarfare strategy, however, proposes using biological weapons in clandestine manners against civilians during times of peace. The focus is on how to infect humans with new, artificial pathogens and how to cover up — the book proposes serial passage of an artificial viral pathogen to mask its origin. Serial passage means cultivating a pathogen candidate in animal models mimicking human organ structures (such as ferrets) through many generations so that the pathogen is adapted to infect humans — of course, the marks of gene editing in the bioweapon are also erased in many rounds of mutation.
Chapter 1: The Transmission Pathway of Contagious Diseases and Why Genetic-Weapon-Typed Emerging Diseases Appear
Chapter 1 deals with basic epidemiological concepts such as the reservoir, transmission route, and susceptible population of infectious diseases. We will skip over the basic knowledge. But two sections of this chapter raise eyebrows. Firstly, the authors introduced new concepts such as “passenger type” and “ecology type” bioweapons. Secondly, the authors claimed that SARS-1 and H7N9 avian flu outbreaks are likely due to artificial pathogens developed by “terrorists”. Both topics will be explained in detail below. We draw this inference from the book — given that the PLA’s own official textbook admitted SARS-1 is an artificially created bioweapon, their comments give credence to the accusation that the current COVID-19 pandemic is also due to a lab-made bioweapon. Remember, the first COVID-19 cases emerged at places close to the two virus laboratories in Wuhan.
Passenger and ecology types of genetic bioweapons
On page 39, the book defines passenger and ecology types of bioweapons as the following:
“(1) Emerging human infectious diseases by genetic weapon (passenger type): after genetic manipulation and serial passage in animal models to adapt an animal virus to infect humans, it is developed into an emerging human infectious disease biowarfare agent that has no reservoir host in nature. Therefore, it can only cause one bout of the outbreak. For instance, the passenger virus SARS-CoV (SARS-1) causes the passenger type disease SARS.”
“(2) Emerging human infectious diseases by genetic weapon (ecology type): this refers to using or modifying certain species of animals in the target area into a host reservoir. After genetic manipulation and serial passage in animal models to adapt an animal virus to infect humans, it is developed into an emerging human infectious disease biowarfare agent that has reservoir hosts in nature. If described in ‘trendy terms’, it is an ‘upgraded version’ of the ‘passenger type’.”
In other words, a passenger type bioweapon can only infect humans but no other animals — in scientific jargon, this is called “no pathogen reservoir in nature”. The passenger type bioweapon can only cause one outbreak because the pathogen gradually dies out in the absence of pathogen-carrying animal hosts in the environment. Basically, the bioweapon-induced outbreak comes and goes — and hence it is named “passenger”. The authors claimed SARS-1 is probably a passenger type bioweapon.
In contrast, the ecology type bioweapon can infect wild animals or pets in addition to humans. This kind of bioweapon is designed to infect certain animals in the target area so that the pathogen-carrying animals serve as a reservoir of the weaponized pathogen. This is the more pernicious form of bioweapon because pathogen-carrying wild animals may lead to recurring disease outbreaks in years or decades, thus decimating the local human population, destabilizing their national security, and devastating their economy. The authors claimed H7N9 avian flu is probably an ecology type bioweapon.
Why is SARS-1 perhaps an artificially created bioweapon?
The authors listed several reasons on pages 41-42 why they believed SARS-1 might be artificially created:
- SARS-1 is very abnormal in comparison to other infectious diseases. It is the only infectious disease that completely disappears and never comes back after one year of the outbreak. No infection cases from nature ever emerge again after the outbreak. So far, the direct ancestor of this virus and the virus’s animal host have never been found. It cannot originate from nature.
- The evolutionary time of SARS-1 is too short. It took the most recent common ancestor of this virus 4.5 years to evolve into SARS-1 (tMRCA=4.5 years). In contrast, the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) took hundreds of years to evolve into HIV. The authors concluded the abnormally fast evolution of SARS-1 cannot occur in nature — this can only be achieved in an artificial environment when certain techniques are applied, such as gene editing and serial passage in animal models similar to humans in organ structures.
- SARS-1 virus displayed obvious, fast, and incessant “reverse evolution”. Some of the virus samples isolated in Guangzhou lacked a 29-nucleotide segment on the virulence factor ORF-8 — the loss of this segment hampered its ability to infect humans. Moreover, mutations caused a stop codon to appear on the ORF1a gene of certain virus strains. This greatly reduced transmissibility and virulence.
- The reverse evolution of SARS-1 means this virus isn’t adapted to infect human hosts.
On page 42, the authors openly stated they believed SARS-1 is a man-made bioweapon deliberately released.
“Meanwhile, considering various factors together such as our national security, preservation of military strength, and rampant global terrorism, SARS-CoV (SARS-1) is highly likely a new type of genetic weapon, or even a genetic weapon transcending the era. The reason is — previously, genetic weapons are weaponized versions of existing pathogens; in contrast, SARS-CoV is an animal virus artificially manipulated into an emerging human disease virus, then weaponized, and is unleashed in a way never known before. The authors named such an unprecedented genetic weapon ‘man-made human virus genetic weapon’, which means using genetic techniques and group adaptation experiments to manipulate an animal virus into a human pathogen, weaponize it, and release it upon the target population (See chapter 4). “
This paragraph means the PLA’s guideline for bioweapon development involves artificially creating an entirely new pathogen, instead of enhancing existing pathogens. Through gene editing and serial passage, even a harmless animal virus may be turned into a bioweapon. This concept is dramatically different from Western ideas.
One paragraph on page 39 is particularly horrifying. The authors claimed that terrorists learned from their mistakes and are upgrading their bioweapons into ecology types.
“There are certainly numerous reasons why SARS-CoV (SARS-1) is a passenger type bioweapon, mainly because it was developed in a short period of time or not well-designed, or because the developers didn’t have a full grasp of epidemiology and weren’t mature in technical development, or because they failed to consider or pay attention to the critical concept of ‘reservoir host’ during their serial passage adaptation experiments in animals. Therefore, after SARS-1, the terrorists realized they should find ‘reservoir hosts’ in the target area or modify a species of animal into the reservoir host. They improved the original design and developed emerging human disease biowarfare agents with ‘reservoir hosts’: ecological genetic agent of artificial new species of the human virus. This means conducting limited air transmission of the new virus strain among ferrets and the group of reservoir hosts, with cycles of serial pass-adaptation-serial passage, until the pathogen is fully adapted to survive in the reservoir hosts. That means the pathogen can grow, multiply, spread, and spread widely in the latter group for generations; then this is weaponized. This is called, in brief, the ecology type of genetic weapon.”
Don’t you spot the hypocrisy in this textbook? The PLA authors claimed they are the first to come up with the concept of passenger and ecology types of bioweapons — they coined the new scientific terms. They are also the first to introduce the idea that an animal host is necessary for the sustained spread of a pathogen. Yet in this paragraph, they said “terrorists” are already using these concepts to design novel bioweapons. Who are the terrorists? Why are the terrorists as technologically advanced as the People’s Liberation Army?
Why H7N9 avian flu is perhaps an artificially created bioweapon?
The authors stated on page 43 that they cannot rule out the H7N9 avian flu outbreak in 2013 as an emerging human infectious disease by a genetic weapon. They provided these reasons below:
- In most infectious diseases, young people are predominantly infected because they sometimes lack immunity to an emerging pathogen. Elderly people, in contrast, are less susceptible because their immune systems have already developed specific immunity against many kinds of local pathogens. However, in the case of H7N9 avian flu, the age distribution of patients is abnormal. The median age of patients is 60. In the absence of specific immunity, elderly people are physically weaker and therefore more vulnerable than young people. That means H7N9 is not a local pathogen, and the local population lack any immunity against this virus. (page 22)
- In the past, an avian flu virus is usually detectable in wild birds or poultry long before the outbreak. For example, the H5N1 avian flu virus could be detected among domesticated geese in Guangdong a year before the Hongkong virus outbreak. The outbreak of an avian flu virus strain shouldn’t occur among humans if the strain couldn’t be detected among the local birds. The H7N9 outbreak is abnormal in that very few local birds tested positive for the virus. (page 44)
- The evolutionary pathway of H7N9 is convoluted. Some of its genes are from virus strains in S. Korea or the Czech Republic. (page 45)
- H7N9 displayed unusual mutations, but the authors didn’t elaborate on this topic. (page 45)
- H7N9 couldn’t be detected in poultry or wild birds before the outbreak. The virus is only detectable in poultry several months into the outbreak or until the outbreak is over. (page 46)
Dr. Li-meng Yan said the current COVID-19 virus is a bioweapon created by the Chinese military labs. If this allegation is true, it is an ecology type bioweapon that can also infect animals like cats. Covid-19 will probably persist much longer than SARS-1 since certain animals can function as reservoirs carrying this virus.