Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Alex Wong/Getty Images

In the early days of the Wuhan virus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, some Chinese scientists first shared genome of Wuhan virus and warned the world. It was about 1:30 p.m. on January 3rd, 2020, a test tube that contained swabs from a patient suffering from the unidentified pneumonia outbreaking in Wuhan arrived at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center. In the biosafety level 3 laboratory, Professor Zhang Yong-Zhen and his team set to work, analyzing the samples. By 2 a.m. on January 5th, 2020, after toiling through two nights straight, they had mapped the first complete genome of the virus SARS-CoV-2. On the same day Zhang and his team uploaded the genome to the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). He named the genome “Wuhan seafood market pneumonia virus”. (GenBank accession number is MN908947.) Note: the ICTV (The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses) has designated the virus as SARS-CoV-2 [1][2].

“It took us less than 40 hours, so very, very fast,” Zhang tells TIME in an exclusive interview. “Then I realized that this virus is closely related to SARS, probably 80%. So certainly, it was very dangerous.” [1]

After uploading the genome, Zhang and his team devoted themselves to analysis of the genomic sequence and origin of the virus. In the paper submitted to Nature on January 7th, 2020, “A New Coronavirus Associated with Human Respiratory Disease in China”, Zhang and his team warned the world about the dangers of viruses, noting that the unusual features of viruses are difficult to explain with natural evolutionary theory [2].

The stake of doing the right things is high in authoritarian systems like P.R. China. On January 12th, 2020, a day after Professor Zhang Yong-Zhen’s team published the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 on open platforms, Virological.org, Zhang’s laboratory at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre was ordered to close for “rectification” by P.R. China’s authority. I think that is why Professor Zhang uploaded the genome of SARS-CoV-2 to U.S. NIH at the time, Zhang may have hoped that the United States would get more information about SARS-CoV-2 and realize the gravity of the situation. “When we posted the genome on Jan. 5, the United States certainly knew about this virus” he says [1]. But NIH gave no response.

Professor Zhang pointed out that SARS-CoV-2 is most closely related to bat virus SL-CoV-ZC45 in his paper submitted on January 7th, 2020. (Bat virus SL-CoV-ZC45 and SL-CoV-ZXC21 are known as the so-called Zhoushan-bat virus.) Importantly, Zhoushan-bat viruses were discovered (between July 2015 and February 2017), isolated, and characterized by laboratories in the Third Military Medical University (Chongqing, China) and the Research Institute for Medicine of Nanjing Command (Nanjing, China), two laboratories are affiliated with Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) [3][4].

WHCV (SARS-CoV-2) is most closely related to bat coronaviruses, and shows 100% amino acid similarity to bat SL-CoVZC45 in the nsp7 and E proteins. Thus, these data suggest that bats are a possible host for the viral reservoir of WHCV (SARS-CoV-2).
—Professor Zhang Yong-Zhen [2].

To better understand the potential of SARS-CoV-2 virus to infect humans, Zhang’s team compared SARS-CoV-2 with SARS-CoV (2003) (the coronavirus that caused SARS, the first pandemic of the 21st century broke out in Guangzhou, China, in 2003) on the receptor-binding domain (RBD), the key part of virus determines if the coronavirus infect human or bat. The RBD sequences of SARS-CoV-2 were more closely related to those of SARS-CoVs (2003) (73.8–74.9% amino acid identity). The high similarities of RBD of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV (2003) suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may efficiently infect human and has potential for human-to-human transmission [2]. SARS-CoV-2 was most closely related to bat SL-CoVZC45 and bat SL-CoVZXC21 in the entire genome, whereas in the RBD region SARS-CoV-2 grouped with SARS-CoV (2003) that are capable of direct human transmission [2]. That means the possible recombination events had occurred between SL-CoV-ZC45 and SARS-CoV (2003), but we can only find SARS-CoV (2003) in laboratories now. It is difficult to explain how the recombination events occurred in natural environment.

Thanks to Congressmen James Comer (R-Ky.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for making excerpts of Dr. Fauci’s emails public, we can get a glimpse of how a science theory is made. Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at NIH. In the letter to Xavier Becerra, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Congressmen claimed that Dr. Fauci was warned of two things: 1) the potential that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute Virology (WIV) and 2) the possibility that the virus was intentionally genetically manipulated [5]. But in early on of pandemic, Dr. Fauci tried his best to promote the theory of the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2 and downplay the danger of the virus. On February 1, 2020, Dr. Fauci forwarded an article advocating the natural origin of the virus to many administrators of NIH. The article was written by Jon Cohen editor of Nature, who does not have a degree in biology. The content of the article mainly cited an unfinished peer-viewed paper by Dr. Shi zhengli, the Director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases of WIV, and some information is from Peter Daszak, Dr. Shi’s partner. In 2008, Peter Daszak and Dr. Shi Zhengli submitted a grant proposal named DEFUSE (Defusing the Threat of Bat-borne Coronaviruses) to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for $14,209,245. But the proposal was rejected by DARPA because the proposal involved Gain of Function (GoF) research. In the rejection letter the reason was stated as that the proposal (DEFUSE) was considered to potentially involve GoF research because they proposed to synthesize spike glycoproteins which bind to human cell receptors and insert them into SARSr-CoV (bat virus) backbones to assess whether they can cause SARS-like disease.

Dr. Shi Zhengli (Center), Peter Daszak (Right). Emerging viruses group photo

Dr. Fauci asked Dr. Kristian Andersen, evolutionary biologist, for his opinion on Jon Cohen’s article. Dr. Andersen answered by email that his phylogenetic analysis could not answer whether the sequences are abnormal, and further wrote that some features of the virus look engineered.

Completely ignoring for the misinformation in Jon Cohen’s article and potential man-made biosecurity threats, Dr. Fuaci forwarded Jon Cohen’s article to Robert Kadlec, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at HHS. ASPR’s priority is to provide advice on public health emergencies, including bioterrorism, and to lead the nation in preventing, responding to, and recovering from the adverse health impacts of manmade and naturally occurring disasters and public health emergencies. No one knows how the misinformation and downplaying affect American emergency response system and the National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB) at ASPR.

In the revealed emails, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist, invited Dr. Fauci to participate the WHO global forum of research partners to discuss research priorities related to SARS-CoV-2, including the natural history and transmission of the virus. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan also mentioned that this meeting is being organized in partnership with GLOPID-R and is being supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Based on the two-day meeting, WHO presented R&D blueprint of research on SARS-CoV-2, A Coordinated Global Research Roadmap: 2019 Novel Coronavirus. In the document, the scientific community defined the source of SARS-CoV-2 as a coronavirus of bat origin, exhibiting 96.2% full genome identity with a clade β-Coronavirus from Rhinolophus affinis bats in Yunnan, China [6]. The conclusions are based entirely on the theory of Dr. Shi Zhengli and Peter Daszak, although their theories have been challenged by scientists from all over the world. In the meeting Peter Daszak gave a presentation, Animal and Environmental Research on the Virus Origin and Management Measures at the Human-animal Interface. We cannot find Dr. Zhang Yong-Zhen participating in this discussion, who was the first scientist to sequence the gene of SARS-CoV-2 and shared it with the world.

References:

  1. Charlie Campbell. Exclusive: Chinese Scientist Who First Sequenced COVID-19 Genome Speaks About Controversies Surrounding His Work. TIME.
  2. Yong-Zhen Zhang et al. A new coronavirus associated with human respiratory disease in China. Nature.
  3. Hu, D. et al. Genomic characterization and infectivity of a novel SARS-like coronavirus in Chinese bats. Emerg Microbes Infect 7, 154 (2018).
  4. Wang, Y. Preliminary investigation of viruses carried by bats on the southeast coastal area (东南沿海地区蝙蝠携带病毒的初步调查研究). Master Thesis (2017).
  5. Press release: Comer & Jordan: Fauci’s Emails Raise Questions of Lab Leak Cover Up. https://republicans-oversight.house.gov
  6. A COORDINATED GLOBAL RESEARCH ROADMAP: 2019 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS, March 2020, R&D Blueprint, WHO.

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Author:Himalaya LA Pangu Farm — Miles H
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