The Wuhan Institute of Virology in China has been the centre of Coronavirus origin controversy for months. From Nobel winning French professor Luc Montagnier and Russian microbiologist Peter Chumakov, to an ex-high level staffer for Bill Clinton Jamie Metzl have revealed their doubts on the escape of the virus from one of the most famous virology institutions in the world.

Meanwhile, the US' Department of Education has started an investigation on the links between America's University of Texas and the Chinese lab. On April 24, Reed Rubinstein the Education Department's acting general counsel has sent a seven-page letter to Chancellor James Milliken. In the letter, the authorities asked about the tie between the university and the lab, as well as other Chinese entities such as telecom giant Huawei.

Tie between University of Texas and Wuhan lab

Tie between University of Texas and Wuhan lab
Tie between University of Texas and Wuhan lab University of Texas and Twitter

This investigation has begun at a time when the speculations related to the virus and its possible escape from the Wuhan lab became one of the top debatable topics. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Education Department is seeking information on any interaction between Galveston National Laboratory, which comes under the University of Texas Medical Branch and China's Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is owned by the Chinese government's Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Education Department also asked in the letter about the school's connections with Huawei, the 5G equipment-maker which has been blacklisted by the Department of Commerce. As per the US authority, UT reported 10 contracts with Huawei and 24 contracts with state-run universities between 2014 and 2019, totalling around $13 million. The Educational Department also asked UT to reveal the details about any gifts received from the Wuhan lab, Chinese companies or individuals such as Zoom CEO Eric Yuan.

"It is not clear, however, whether UT has, in fact, reported all gifts from or contracts with or relating to the Wuhan MCL, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and/or all other foreign sources, including agents and instrumentalities of the government of the Peoples' Republic of China," the agency stated.

The US government asked the institution to handover any details on Wuhan lab researcher Shi Zhengli, who is known as "Bat Woman" for her years of work with bats and bat Coronaviruses. To obtain all the valuable records, UT is asked to search its emails, mobile devices, hard drives, computers, network drives, cloud storage and archives. The university authorities are also warned not to modify the content or scrub the metadata.

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Foreign funding by China and other countries on US institutions

In the letter, the US department said they have recognized that the novel Coronavirus may have a significant impact on certain operations at UT. "Nonetheless, the critical importance of the Department's investigation into the accuracy of UT's foreign source reporting with respect to the Wuhan MCL and other Chinese Communist Party-related persons and entities is not diminished. Accordingly, the Department expects UT's timely response to this investigation," the letter added.

A spokesperson form UT told The Hill that the university system will help the investigation and continue to respond to any request from the state as well as federal authorities. In addition, he also mentioned that as of now the Galveston National Laboratory has collaborated with almost 70 countries as well as scientists from the US and abroad on biosafety and biosecurity. However, the spokesperson also mentioned that the Medical Branch of UT compiled with "obligations to report fiduciary relationships as required by statute."

As a response to this newly launched investigation, a Zoom spokesperson said that if the popular tech company is on such list "it is in error and indicates the authors did not do their homework." He added that the California based tech firm "is no different than any other US technology company with operations in China, including many of our video conferencing peers."