Wuhan scientists planned to release coronaviruses into bat caves more than a year-and-a-half before the first case of covid-19 was reported, according to 2018 grant proposals submitted to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The proposals showed that scientists wanted to genetically engineer coronaviruses that were infectious to humans and then conduct experiments on live bats.
Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China — the city suspected of being the epicenter for the coronavirus global pandemic — were planning to genetically enhance airborne coronaviruses and release skin-penetrating nanoparticles containing novel chimeric spike proteins among cave bats in Yunnan, located about 2,000 kilometers southwest of Wuhan.
They also planned to introduce “human-specific cleavage sites” to bat coronaviruses that would make it easier for the virus to enter human cells.
Details of the leaked grant proposals were released Tuesday by Drastic research, a group of international scientists investigating the origins of the pandemic.
“Given that we discover a mention of the anticipated introduction of human-specific cleavage sites in this proposal, an assessment by the larger scientific community of the plausibility of artificial insertion is warranted,” said Drastic.
When covid-19 was genetically sequenced, scientists were puzzled about how the virus had evolved such a human-specific adaptation at the cleavage site on the spike protein, which is why it is so infectious.
The purpose of the research was to assess the risk of coronaviruses, work on ways to prevent outbreaks and vaccinate bats against the virus, according to the proposal.
Drastic reported that a whistle-blower leaked the proposal, and a former member of the Trump administration confirmed the proposals’ authenticity to the Telegraph.
The proposal also outlined combining high-risk natural coronavirus strains with more infectious but less harmful variants.
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The bid was submitted by British zoologist Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S.-based organization that has worked closely with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to research bat coronaviruses.
Team members included Dr. Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan Institute of Virology researcher nicknamed “Batwoman”, together with U.S. researchers from the University of North Carolina and the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center.
However, the $14 million grant was rejected by DARPA over fears that it could result in gain-of-function research, which could make the virus more transmissible and infectious.
“It is clear that the proposed project led by Peter Daszak could have put local communities at risk,” DARPA said.
Since China originally alerted the world to a mysterious virus circulating in Wuhan in December 2019, debate has been raging over its true source.
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