A Chinese virologist, director of one of the laboratories of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, once again denied the theory that the virus causing Covid-19 could have escaped from her institution, in an interview published monday in the New York Times. US President Joe Biden in May called on US intelligence services to “Redouble efforts” to explain the origins of Covid-19, lamenting Beijing’s lack of cooperation and transparency.
Long brushed aside by most experts, the theory of a laboratory accident in Wuhan, China, has come back in force in recent weeks in the American debate. And calls for more in-depth investigation are growing within the scientific community. Shi Zhengli, head of the P3 high security laboratory (for “Class 3 pathogen”) from the Wuhan institute, which studies many viruses including coronaviruses, responded to the New York Times by phone and email.
“How the hell can I bring proof of something that there is no proof of?” “she first blurted out, then wishing to continue by email, citing the rules of the city-based institute that was the first epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
The fear of genetic manipulation
According to New York TimesDr Shi then responded with a strong negative when asked if his lab had a strain of the novel coronavirus in its possession before the pandemic. She also denied the information, published in the American press, according to which three researchers from the Wuhan institute were hospitalized in November 2019, presenting symptoms compatible with Covid-19, but also with those of a “Seasonal infection”.
Shi Zhengli also rejected the accusations of dangerous genetic manipulation, in particular relayed in the United States by certain elected Republicans. This research, say of “Gain of function” (gain-of-function, in English), consist in deliberately modifying the genetic code of a molecule, in this case of a virus, in a sometimes harmless way, but sometimes aiming to increase the virulence or the transmissibility of a pathogen in order to better understand it.
Very controversial, research of this type has nevertheless taken place at the Wuhan institute, affirms the New York Times, which refers to an article published in 2017 by a group of scientists from the Wuhan laboratory, including Dr Shi, where they present the results of research in which new bat coronaviruses were created.
Questioned by the New York Times on the issue, the manager claims to have never conducted any experience of gain in office “Aimed at increasing the virulence of viruses”.