A British scientist is facing calls to step down from two key inquiries into the origins of Covid-19 after leading the global battle to dismiss suggestions that it might have leaked from a Chinese laboratory linked to his charity.
Peter Daszak’s organisation channelled cash to Wuhan scientists at the centre of growing concerns over a cover-up – and also collaborated on the sort of cutting-edge experiments on coronaviruses banned for several years in the United States for fear of sparking a pandemic.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been carrying out this risky research on bat viruses since 2015, including the collection of new coronaviruses and hugely controversial ‘gain of function’ experiments that increase their ability to infect humans.
Peter Daszak’s organisation channelled cash to Wuhan scientists at the centre of growing concerns over a cover-upInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Many leading scientists argue that deliberately creating new and infectious microbes poses a huge danger of starting a pandemic from an accidental release, especially as leaks from laboratories have often occurred.
Despite his close ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology – and the way he has orchestrated efforts to stifle claims that the pandemic might not have happened naturally – Dr Daszak was invited by the World Health Organisation to join its team of ten international experts investigating the outbreak.
The prominent scientist, who runs a conservation charity originally founded by the famous naturalist and best-selling author Gerald Durrell, is also leading an investigatory panel on the pandemic’s origins set up by The Lancet medical journal.
The prominent scientist, who runs a conservation charity originally founded by the famous naturalist and best-selling author Gerald Durrell, is also leading an investigatory panel on the pandemic’s origins set up by The Lancet medical journal
‘Peter Daszak has conflicts of interest that unequivocally disqualify him from being part of an investigation of the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic,’ said Richard Ebright, bio-security expert and professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
‘He was the contractor responsible for funding of high-risk research on Sars-related bat coronaviruses at Wuhan Institute of Virology and a collaborator on this research.’
Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, has seen his career take him from researching rare land snails at Kingston University to his new key role investigating the eruption of the most destructive pandemic for a century.
The pugnacious scientist, originally from Manchester, spent much of the past year trying to counter claims of a possible laboratory leak while defending his friend Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan scientist known as Batwoman for her virus-hunting trips in caves.
‘Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know Covid-19 wasn’t created in a lab,’ ran the headline to one typical article he wrote in The Guardian.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
But other scientists say there is no firm evidence at this stage to back Daszak’s insistence that Covid-19 crossed from animals to humans via natural transmission. Many point to the simple yet startling coincidence that Wuhan is home to Asia’s main research centre on bat coronaviruses as well as the place where the pandemic erupted.
Emails released through freedom of information requests have shown Daszak recruited some of the world’s top scientists to counter claims of a possible lab leak with publication of a landmark collective letter to The Lancet early last year. He drafted their statement attacking ‘conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin’ and then persuaded 26 other prominent scientists to back it. He suggested the letter should not be identifiable as ‘coming from any one organisation or person’.
The signatories include six of the 12-strong Lancet team investigating the cause of the outbreak.
Yet it has emerged that Daszak had previously issued warnings over the dangers of sparking a global pandemic from a laboratory incident – and said the risks were greater with the sort of virus manipulation research being carried out in Wuhan.
In October 2015, he co-authored an article in the journal Nature on ‘spillover and pandemic properties of viruses’ that identified the risk from ‘virus exposure in laboratory settings’ and from ‘wild animals housed in laboratories’.
Seven months earlier, Daszak was a key speaker at a high-powered seminar on reducing risk from emerging infectious diseases hosted by the prestigious National Academies of Science in Washington.
Among materials prepared for the meeting was a 13-page document by Daszak entitled ‘Assessing coronavirus threats’ that included a page examining ‘spillover potential’ from ‘genetic and experimental studies’.
This identified steps that increased dangers from such research – rising from lower risk sampling of viruses through to the highest risk from experiments on infecting isolated cells and on so-called ‘humanised mice’ – animals created for labs with human genes, cells or tissues in their bodies.
Yet on January 2 – three days after news broke outside China of a new respiratory disease in Wuhan – Daszak boasted on Twitter of isolating Sars coronaviruses ‘that bind to human cells in the lab’.
He added that other scientists have shown ‘some of these have pandemic potential, able to infect humanised mice’.
Another tweet two months earlier talked about ‘great progress’ with Sars-related coronaviruses from bats through identifying new strains, finding ones that bind to human cells and ‘using recombinant viruses/humanised mice to see Sars-like signs and showing some don’t respond to vaccines’.
Daszak also told a podcast that bat coronaviruses could be manipulated in a lab ‘pretty easily’, explaining how their spike proteins – which bind to human receptors in cells – drive the risk of transmission from animals to humans.
‘You can get the [genetic] sequence, build the protein, insert it into