Chinese scientists have reportedly created a new, mutant COVID strain that is 100% fatal in humanized mice, triggering warnings from experts about the risks of such dangerous research.
Fatal New Virus Strain Created in Wuhan Lab
According to an initial report published on January 16th, scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology used a technique called “directed evolution” to create a new COVID strain that is extremely lethal in humanized mice models.
The mutant virus was engineered from the original COVID-19 virus and is said to kill 100% of infected mice within a week. Scientists introduced genetic mutations into COVID to enhance its ability to infect cells in an effort to study how future variants could become more transmissible or lethal.
“This is madness, it shows that some scientists have learned nothing from the pandemic potential of the original COVID strain,” said professor Lawrence Young from UK’s Warwick Medical School.
This research comes amid renewed scrutiny of China’s controversial gain-of-function research on viruses with pandemic potential. Calls are mounting for greater oversight and debate over the risks and benefits of creating dangerous new pathogens in labs.
Aims to Predict Future Variants
Defenders of the research argue that understanding how viruses can mutate to become more deadly can help public health officials get ahead of future variants and better prepare medical countermeasures.
“Scientists have raised alarms about these types of risky experiments being conducted without proper oversight, but defenders claim the knowledge gleaned from engineering pathogens can help predict the evolution of natural viruses and better prepare for the next pandemic,” said an NBC report.
By selecting mutations that enhance virulence, the Wuhan team says they have effectively accelerated evolution to reveal potentially dangerous future mutations. But critics argue this does not justify the immense risks created by manufacturing new killer viruses with no existing immunity or treatments.
Global Backlash over Risky Research
The revelation of the mouse-adapted COVID strain in China unleashed a torrent of criticism and calls for transparency and accountability around gain-of-function research. Prominent virologists and public health experts across the world spoke out to condemn the experiments as “madness” and “playing with fire.”
“This madness must be stopped,” said Dr. Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who has criticized gain-of-function research in the past.
Others warned that while the mutated COVID strain is not currently transmissible to humans, such experiments dramatically increase the risk of a lab accident that could spark a new pandemic rivaling COVID-19.
“It is playing with fire. The risk of accidents and errors with these viruses is real as we saw at the start of the pandemic,” said Lawrence Young.
|Help predict variants
|Could spark outbreak
|Study virus evolution
Wuhan Lab No Stranger to Controversy
The controversial study has drawn renewed scrutiny to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and its research on coronaviruses over the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019.
The lab has been at the center of heated debate over theories that SARS-CoV-2 may have accidentally leaked from its high-risk virus experiments, a claim Chinese officials and some scientists vehemently deny.
But even those skeptical of lab leak theories have lambasted the lack of transparency, oversight accountability around Chinese labs studying pathogens with epidemic potential.
“If the lab leak hypothesis is ever to be properly investigated, the Chinese Communist Party must allow greater transparency around facilities like the WIV,” said an opinion column in the New York Post.
Calls for Risk-Benefit Analysis and Oversight
In response to the latest revelations, scientists around the world reiterated calls for careful risk-benefit analysis and oversight frameworks around experiments that enhance pathogen virulence or transmissibility.
Given the tremendous risks, research that deliberately makes pathogens more dangerous should only be permitted if expected benefits clearly outweigh potential harms, they argue. All such experiments also require strict biosafety measures and should not be conducted in regions lacking public health infrastructure.
“If anything was learned from the COVID-19 pandemic it was that supervision of this type of research is critical at the very least,” said an editorial in GB News.
Looking ahead, cooperation and dialogue between scientists, policymakers and the public will be vital for determining acceptable limits on such controversial research and preventing future pandemics. But continued obstruction and secrecy from Chinese labs remains a significant barrier.
Conclusion: Reckless Experiments Raise Alarms
The news that Chinese virologists created a fully lethal COVID strain in humanized mice models set off alarm bells among experts already concerned about risky gain-of-function experiments occurring without sufficient guardrails.
Critics blasted the “madness” of manufacturing dangerous pathogens and flirting with pandemic risks for incremental or speculative gains in knowledge. It remains uncertain whether the publicized research goals justify the immense downside risks amplified by China’s opacity around viral research.
As the 3rd anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, the revelations are bound to reignite tense debates over pandemic preparedness, biotechnology risks, lab safety and future outbreak prevention across the globe. If anything, the saga highlights the pressing need for far more openness, accountability and oversight over research that could plausibly unleash the next outbreak.
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