From almost the moment the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the city of Wuhan, the medical-research establishment in Washington and London insisted that the virus had emerged naturally. Only conspiracy theorists, they said, would give credence to the idea that the virus had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Now a string of unearthed emails—the most recent being a batch viewed by the House Oversight and Reform Committee and referred to in its January 11, 2022 letter—is making it seem increasingly likely that there was, in fact, a conspiracy, its aim being to suppress the notion that the virus had emerged from research funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), headed by Anthony Fauci. The latest emails don’t prove such a conspiracy, but they make it more plausible, for two reasons: because the expert virologists therein present such a strong case for thinking that the virus had lab-made features and because of the wholly political reaction to this bombshell on the part of Francis Collins, then-director of the National Institutes of Health. . . .
A striking feature of the excerpts released in the committee’s January 11, 2022 letter is that the virologists had little doubt that the virus bore the fingerprints of manipulation. The focus of their attention was a genetic element called a furin cleavage site. This short snippet of genetic material is what makes the virus so infectious for human cells. Scientists sometimes add this element to laboratory viruses to make them more virulent, but in nature, viruses usually acquire runs of genetic material like this by swapping them with other members of their family. The furin cleavage site in the Covid virus sticks out like a sore thumb because no other known member of its family—a group called Sarbecoviruses—possesses a furin cleavage site. So how did the virus acquire it?
A member of the Andersen group, Garry of Tulane University, remarks in the latest emails on the fact that the inserted furin cleavage site, a string of 12 units of RNA, the virus’s genetic material, was exactly the required length, a precision unusual in nature: “I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature . . . it’s stunning. Of course, in the lab it would be easy to generate the perfect 12 base insert that you wanted.”
Another member of the Andersen group, Farzan of Scripps Research, apparently felt much the same way. “He is bothered by the furin cleavage site and has a hard time explain[ing] that as an event outside the lab (though, there are possible ways in nature, but highly unlikely),” the House committee’s letter says of his remarks. Farzan noted that viruses can acquire elements like furin cleavage sites when grown in cultures of human cells, so “instead of directed engineering . . . acquisition of the furin site would be highly compatible with the continued passage of virus in tissue culture.” Both routes— direct insertion of the cleavage site or tissue culture—would mean that the virus came from a lab.
The conferees were clearly aware of the possibility that the virus had originated in the Wuhan lab. “So I think it becomes a question of how do you put all this together,” Farzan wrote, “whether you believe in this series of coincidences, what you know of the lab in Wuhan, how much could be in nature—accidental release or natural event? I am 70:30 or 60:40,” meaning he thought lab origin considerably more likely than not.
You might think that the senior administrators present at the conference would have rushed to investigate the startling inference that their expert advisers had drawn. But just one day after the teleconference at which his experts explained why they thought the virus seemed manipulated, Collins complained about the damage such an idea might cause. “The voices of conspiracy will quickly dominate, doing great potential harm to science and international harmony,” he wrote on February 2, 2020, according to the new emails.
So as not to give the “conspiracy theorists” ammunition, let’s . . . have a conspiracy to suppress the likely truth!