The US-based health organization EcoHealth Alliance sent virus samples found in Laotian bats between June 2017 and May 2019 for studying at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the White Coat Waste Project non-profit discovered via a Freedom of Information request.
Emails obtained thanks to the request said that viruses from “bats and other high-risk species” had been sent for studies, which, as earlier reports showed, included gain-of-function. The latter was used to study the possibility of these animal-origin pathogens jumping to humans.
The research was funded by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), although the National Institutes of Health (NIH) denies ordering or approving the use of the gain-of-function method.
The NIH, however, confirmed that EcoHealth Alliance had carried out such research, which is deemed dangerous by specialists due to the possibility of accidentally releasing highly contagious and deadly modified viruses into the world.
Proof of Lab Leak Theory or Another Wild Goose Chase?
The Laotian bat virus, which EcoHealth Alliance sent to the Wuhan lab, known under the name Banal-52, showed 96.8% similarity in its genome sequence to SARS‑CoV‑2 – the pathogen that triggers COVID-19 and which caused the worldwide pandemic. This revelation prompted some media outlets to paint the news as another sign supporting the unproven claim of some US officials and intelligence agencies that SARS‑CoV‑2 emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s laboratory.
With 96.8% similarity, Banal-52 is only slightly closer to SARS‑CoV‑2 than some of the viruses found in Chinese bat caves, which were also studied at the Wuhan lab. At the same time, in terms of genetics, a 3% difference in genome sequences is a big gap, which has in turn prompted some scientists to believe that there has been at least one more intermediate host in which the virus mutated before it could jump to humans.
It is unclear, however, if the gain-of-function experiments with coronaviruses that EcoHealth Alliance conducted at the Wuhan lab can explain such a large genetic “jump”. Nor is it clear how US authorities could remain unaware of the organization’s dangerous experiments, which the White House essentially funded.
At the same time, the US became one of the main sources for promoting the theory that the Chinese lab unintentionally released the SARS‑CoV‑2 pathogen it had allegedly experimented on. This claim was actively pushed by ex-President Donald Trump and explored by current President Joe Biden. However, US intelligence agencies’ investigations have failed to find solid evidence to back up these claims. Beijing itself has repeatedly rejected the accusations.