Top health official claims Boston University lab created new Covid strain without authorization

Boston University claimed the NIAID funding was acknowledged as a courtesy and it did not need to clear the research with the officials

Top health official claims Boston University lab created new Covid strain without authorization
(Representational photo, David Ryder/Getty Images)
ADVERTISEMENT

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: A senior US health official has claimed that controversial Covid manipulation research that was carried out in a Boston laboratory was not authorized, although it was funded by taxpayer money. Boston University scientists have been blasted after they allegedly created a new Covid strain in a laboratory. The team allegedly made a hybrid virus, combining Omicron and the original Wuhan strain, that killed 80% of mice in a study, reported Daily Mail.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to public records, the research was partly paid for using a grant awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Teams are supposed to explain what the money is being used for as any government-funded research grants. They also have to explain how it will benefit the public.

ADVERTISEMENT

READ MORE

What is Centaurus? Virologists concerned about new Omicron variant spreading rapidly

Experts warn of 'stealth Omicron' wave as 'high rate of concealment' sends shockwaves across China

ADVERTISEMENT

Dr Emily Erbelding, director of NIAID’s division of microbiology and infectious diseases, has now admitted that the Boston team did not clear the work with the agency, the Daily Mail reported. She said she realized how deadly the research was after reading reports in the media.

ADVERTISEMENT

The new research, which has not been peer-reviewed, involved a team of researchers from Boston and Florida extracting Omicron's spike protein, a structure that binds to and invades human cells. Researchers then attached the spike to the original wildtype strain that first emerged in Wuhan when the pandemic began and looked at how mice reacted to the new hybrid strain compared to the original Omicron variant.

ADVERTISEMENT

A similar group of rodents that were exposed to the standard Omicron strain survived, with only one experiencing "mild" symptoms. Writing in the paper, they said, "In...mice, while Omicron causes mild, non-fatal infection, the Omicron S-carrying virus inflicts severe disease with a mortality rate of 80 percent." The spike protein, researchers said, is responsible for infectivity. Changes to other parts of its structure determine how deadly it is.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to Boston university, it was not technically a gain-of-function research because its chimeric virus only killed 80 per cent of mice. In comparison, the original Wuhan strain killed 100 per cent of the rodents. "In fact, this research made the virus less dangerous," a spokesperson said. 

Dr Erbelding said she "wished" the scientists had told NIAID of their work. "What we would have wanted to do is to talk about exactly what they wanted to do in advance... [and then] we could have put a package forward for review," she told Stat News.

ADVERTISEMENT

However, a Boston University spokesperson said they "did not have an obligation to disclose this research", adding that they carried out the experiments with funds from Boston University. "NIAID funding was acknowledged as a courtesy because it was used to help develop the tools and platforms that were used in this research, they did not fund this research directly," they said. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Dr Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has said it was "demonstrably false" and "deeply embarrassing" to suggest what the University is suggesting. "The claims in BU's public statement that: "this research is not gain-of-function research", "it did not... make it more dangerous", and "this research made the virus replicate less dangerous [sic]" are demonstrably false and should be deeply embarrassing," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT



 

"The novel lab-generated coronavirus exhibits the high immune escape of Omicron BA.1 and higher lethality than Omicron BA.1 — albeit lower lethality than original Wuhan-1 SARS-CoV-2 — in mice engineered to display human receptors for SARS-like coronaviruses. It is concerning that this research — like the research in Wuhan that may have caused the pandemic —' was not identified as gain-of-function and reviewed appropriately," he added. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The lab, located at Boston University's National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, is one of 13 biosafety level 4 labs in the US. These labs have the authority to handle the most dangerous pathogens, with experiments that involve tinkering with animal viruses to advance treatments and vaccines that could be used if there is an outbreak in the future. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Share this article: Top health official claims Boston University lab created new Covid strain without authorization