American physician and immunologist, Anthony Fauci, who is an adviser to President Donald Trump is the most trusted person for Americans compared to their own President on Coronavirus pandemic, revealed a new poll. Even in a surprise appearance, Hollywood star Brad Pitt played Dr Fauci's character at the opening of Saturday's "SNL."

But it was revealed that last year the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the organization led by Dr Fauci, funded the researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other institutions for work on gain-of-function (GOF) research on bat Coronaviruses.

NIAID supported Wuhan Coronavirus research

With the help of NIAID, in 2019 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) committed $3.7 million over six years for research including the gain-of-function work that involves the enhancement of the transmissibility or virulence of a pathogen. This project followed another $3.7 million support, a 5-year program for collecting and studying bat Coronaviruses, which ended in 2019, bringing the total to $7.4 million funds.

It should be noted that many scientists have criticized this kind of research as it creates a risk of a pandemic from accidental release. The risk factors in such research first came under the spotlight in an article published in Nature that revealed details about a chimeric virus which was found to infect humans after it was created in a lab by genetic engineering between horseshoe bats in China as well as the SARS virus.

In the current scenario, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus which has infected over three million people and killed more than 217,000 individuals in the world. This virus is believed to have originated in bats. While researchers claimed that the novel Coronavirus had occurred naturally, US intelligence claimed in March that the pandemic may have originated in a leak from the Wuhan lab.

Biosafety
Lab research Wikimedia commons

Coronavirus and Wuhan lab connection

As reported by Newsweek, NIH said in a statement that usually most emerging human viruses come from wildlife which represents a "threat to public health and biosecurity in the US and globally, as demonstrated by the SARS epidemic of 2002-03, and the current COVID-19 pandemic.... scientific research indicates that there is no evidence that suggests the virus was created in a laboratory."

It should be mentioned that NIH research included two parts. In the first part, that started in 2014 and ended in 2019, involved surveillance of bat Coronaviruses and had a budget of $3.7 million. This was the program which funded China's "bat woman", Shi Zheng-Li, a virologist at the Wuhan lab and other scientists to investigate on bat Coronaviruses in the wild.

In the second part, which started last year, scientists conducted additional surveillance work along with GOF research for the purpose of understanding how the bat Coronaviruses could mutate to affect humans. This phase was run by EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit research group, under the supervision of President Peter Daszak, who is an expert on disease ecology. But the project was cancelled on April 24.

Richard Ebright, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers University said that as per the project description, the experiment could enhance the ability of bat Coronavirus to infect human cells and laboratory animals using techniques of genetic engineering.

Anthony Fauci
Dr Anthony Fauci Wikimedia commons

It should be mentioned that a few years ago Dr Fauci played a key role in promoting the work related to GOF research on bird flu viruses. He said that the research was the world the risk as it allows scientists to prepare for the investigation of possible anti-viral medications, that could be useful during a pandemic.

In addition, he also said that "Decades of experience tells us that disseminating information gained through biomedical research to legitimate scientists and health officials provides a critical foundation for generating appropriate countermeasures and, ultimately, protecting the public health."

Can we overlook the unethical activities of Wuhan researchers?

It was claimed that researchers at Wuhan labs allegedly sell their leftovers after they are done experimenting on the animals. A group of bipartisan American lawmakers expressed their concerns in a letter to the WHO and FDA while asking for a "global shutdown of live wildlife markets" after theories of the COVID-19 origin from the wet market came under the spotlight.

Reports also revealed that a professor from China Agricultural University, Ning Li, was sentenced to 12 years in jail in February for selling animals from the Wuhan lab. It should be known that of the 3.7 million Chinese yuan illegally earned by Li, more than one million yuan came from the selling of animals or milk used by the lab.