American and Chinese scientists planned to collaborate to create a new coronavirus in a lab that is not found in nature, according to a World Health Organization collaborator who reviewed a research grant proposal that was leaked in September.
The 2018 proposal, which was made public by DRASTIC, was submitted to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) by EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit group that sub-awarded federal funding from Dr. Anthony Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to conduct research on bat coronaviruses.
In the proposal, EcoHealth Alliance asked DARPA to fund a joint project with Chinese scientists to create a new virus.
"We will compile sequence/RNAseq data from a panel of closely related strains and compare full length genomes, scanning for unique SNPs representing sequencing errors," the proposal states. "Consensus candidate genomes will be synthesised commercially using established techniques and genome-length RNA and electroporation to recover recombinant viruses."
A WHO expert who spoke to The Telegraph explained how scientists could engineer a new virus that would still look like the natural virus they started with.
"This means that they would take various sequences from similar coronaviruses and create a new sequence that is essentially the average of them. It would be a new virus sequence, not a 100 per cent match to anything," the expert said.
"They would then synthesise the viral genome from the computer sequence, thus creating a virus genome that did not exist in nature but looks natural as it is the average of natural viruses.
"Then they put that RNA in a cell and recover the virus from it. This creates a virus that has never existed in nature, with a new 'backbone' that didn't exist in nature but is very, very similar as it's the average of natural backbones," the unnamed WHO collaborator explained.
The anonymous WHO source suggested that if the SARS-CoV-2 virus was artificially engineered this way, it would explain why scientists have been unable to find a direct ancestor of the virus in nature.
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Last year, scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology said they had found a strain named RaTG13 in bat droppings in a cave in Yunnan province in 2013 which was a 96.1 per cent match to Sars-CoV-2. It means RaTG13 could have been included in a set of viral genomes to help create an average sequence.
Although the grant proposal was rejected in 2018, the Wuhan database of viral strains was taken offline prior to the Covid outbreak some 18 months later, meaning it is impossible to check which viruses the team was working on or had created. Wuhan scientists have consistently denied creating Sars-CoV-2 in a lab.
The WHO source added: "If Sars-CoV-2 comes from an artificial consensus sequence composed of genomes with more than 95 per cent similarity to each other… I would predict that we will never find a really good match in nature and just a bunch of close matches across parts of the sequence, which so far is what we are seeing.
"The problem is that those opposed to a lab leak scenario will always just say that we need to sample more, and absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. Scientists overall are afraid of discussing the issue of the origins due to the political situation. This leaves a small and vocal minority of biased scientists free to spread misinformation."
Documents obtained by the Intercept earlier this month confirmed that gain-of-function research was conducted at the WIV and was funded by U.S. taxpayers through National Institutes of Health grants sub-awarded by EcoHealth Alliance. While prominent public health officials such as NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and NIAID Director Dr. Fauci have previously denied that NIH funded gain-of-function research to make viruses that are transmissible among humans in Wuhan, these new revelations suggest that the scientists who received these grants were interested in exactly that sort of research.
Still, there is no hard evidence that confirms the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19. A review of the origins of the pandemic conducted by U.S. intelligence agencies on President Joe Biden's orders was inconclusive on both the lab-leak and natural origins theories, stating that China's refusal to cooperate with investigators is preventing a conclusive assessment.