Since the investigation into the origins of COVID-19 began, there has been a debate about “gain-of-function” research and whether it played a part in the creation of the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus that became a pandemic that killed six million people and counting.
“Gain-of-function” is a term that describes how scientists manipulate organisms to give them new properties. Not all gain-of-function research is necessarily risky. Genetically engineering corn to withstand drought or be resistant to some insects could be considered gain-of-function research.
The term also describes the kind of research that makes a dangerous pathogen even worse; easier to transmit, higher mortality, etc. This is known as “gain-of-function research of concern” (GOFROC), and it alarms scientists and researchers around the world. That’s because making a bad bug even worse can be dangerous when the lab safety protocol where the research is being performed is substandard.
This describes the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where criminally negligent safety protocols may — or may not — have led to a leak of a virus that caused the pandemic.
There are other descriptions of gain-of-function research — descriptions that allow experts like Dr. Antony Fauci to claim there was no subsidy of gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab.
Technically — very technically — Dr. Fauci did not commit perjury when he said several times under oath that the National Institutes of Health never funded such research. But it’s still a lie. Funding was given to the Wuhan lab to conduct GOFOC research on bat diseases.
For instance, in 2017, WIV published a study that said researchers had found a coronavirus from a bat that could be transmitted directly to humans. WIV researchers used reverse genetics to deliberately create novel recombinants of wild bat coronavirus backbones and spike genes, then tested the ability of these chimeric (man-made) viruses to replicate in — not just infect — a variety of cell lines.
The NIH grant that funded the study used “reverse genetics, pseudovirus and receptor binding assays, and virus infection experiments across a range of cell cultures from different species and humanized mice.” Gain-of-function, right? “The research was — unequivocally — gain-of-function research,” Richard H. Ebright of Rutgers University, a longtime critic of such research, told the Post. “The research met the definition for gain-of-function research of concern under the 2014 Pause.”
Our old friends at the EcoHealth Alliance said no, it wasn’t GOFROC. EcoHealth Alliance, run by Peter Daszak, said it didn’t meet that definition.
But Robert Kessler, a spokesman for the nongovernmental organization EcoHealth Alliance that NIH funded, said claims about funding gain-of-function research are based on a misunderstanding of the grant’s role in the research. He said EcoHealth provided WIV $133,000 a year, except for $66,000 in 2020 (when the grant was terminated by the Trump administration), for a total of about $600,000.
“The NIH has not funded gain-of-function work,” Kessler said in email exchanges. “EcoHealth Alliance was funded by the NIH to conduct a study of coronavirus diversity in China. From that award, we subcontracted work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to help with sampling and lab capacity.”
Daszak has been a mouthpiece for the Communist Chinese since the pandemic began. It was he who prevented the WHO team from looking into the pandemic’s origins when it was in China, and whose role at the Wuhan lab has yet to be completely understood. It was he who organized the influential letter signed by two dozen prestigious scientists and researchers that dismissed the lab leak theory out of hand.
Related: UPDATE: Boston University Denies that What It’s Doing Is Gain-of-Function Research on Omicron
Researchers in China used money from the grant to do everything but conduct gain-of-function research. It was all part of the same project but, to use a baking analogy, EcoHealth Alliance only provided the flour, the yeast, the sugar, and all the ingredients. They just didn’t mix them all together and bake them.
Be that as it may, the real question is simple: Does this research benefit mankind? Or is it just scientists having fun moving genes around and seeing just how nasty a bug can get?
A lengthy 2014 editorial in American Society of Microbiology journal mBio claimed that GOFROC experiments are of “epistemological value,” citing a number of theoretical benefits, without giving any concrete links to vaccines or therapeutics.
A 2021 piece by the biosafety director of Colorado State University was equally modest in its claims of benefit, stating that: “Gain-of-function experiments may help researchers test scientific theories, develop new technologies and find treatments for infectious diseases.”
Dr. Fauci was fond of saying how vital gain-of-function research would be in heading off the next pandemic. But again, there’s no evidence for that whatsoever. And it’s even more likely that the next pandemic could be triggered by a leak from a poorly maintained and dangerous lab in someplace like China where they care more about hiding the truth from the world than anything else.
Dr. Laura Kahn, a biodefense expert, physician, and global security scholar, says as far as she knows, GOFROC “has not directly led to vaccines or therapeutics.” Rather, scientists use it to “predict pandemics” like “we use satellites to predict hurricanes.”
She added that we don’t “seed the clouds to create a hurricane to study it. We observe. We don’t create the hurricane.” Purposefully creating dangerous viruses so you can potentially develop vaccines, she said, is “insanity.”
Tell that to Dr. Fauci.