National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease head Dr. Anthony Fauci and several other top scientists were warned that COVID-19 could have been created by gain-of-function research in early 2020, according to email transcriptions released Tuesday by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Two scientists, Michael Farzan of the Scripps Research Institute and Robert Garry of Tulane University, noted properties of the virus that they believed pointed to enhanced transmissibility stemming from gain-of-function research.
The opinions of both men were provided to Fauci, then-National Institutes of Health head Francis Collins, and then-NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak in an email from researcher Jeremy Farrar sent on Jan. 31, 2020. The existence of the emails was first revealed by Buzzfeed News in June 2021, but they were released with significant redactions. Due to classification rules, the emails could only be viewed by the Republican committee members and staff, who could then take notes and transcriptions in a classified setting.
We’ve released never before seen emails showing Dr. Fauci may have concealed information about #COVID19 originating from the Wuhan lab & intentionally downplayed the lab leak theory. @RepJamesComer & @Jim_Jordan want Fauci under oath. Time for answers. 1/2👇 pic.twitter.com/p8aIBJ3nom
— Oversight Committee Republicans (@GOPoversight) January 11, 2022
Farzan was “bothered by” SARS-CoV-2’s furin cleavage site, which he viewed as “highly unlikely” to have been created in “an event outside the lab,” according to the transcriptions. The existence of a furin cleavage site, which enables the virus to become more transmissible, has been pointed to by several proponents of the lab leak theory, since the two closest known relatives of SARS-CoV-2, RaTG13 and BANAL-236, do not have the site.
Farzan claimed that a likely scenario for the creation of the furin cleavage site was the “passage [of] SARS -live CoVs in tissue culture on human cell lines (under BSL-2) for an extended period of time.”
Garry noted the similarities between SARS-CoV-2 and RaTG13, then the closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2, which was discovered in a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013. The protein sequence would “all have to be added at the exact same time to gain” the enhanced transmissibility, he wrote, adding, “I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature.”
“Of course, in the lab it would be easy to generate” the missing protein sequence that separates SARS-CoV-2 from RaTG13, Garry noted.
Garry later downplayed the possibility of the lab leak hypothesis, telling the Daily Caller News Foundation in June 2021 that there was no evidence to support the theory.
Emails between Fauci and other scientists expressing concern about a lab leak have previously been reported. Kristian Andersen, an infectious disease expert at Scripps, wrote to Fauci in an email, also in January 2020, that “some of the [virus’] features (potentially) look engineered.” Andersen would backtrack just days later in an email addressed to Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance, blasting “crackpot theories” that COVID-19 is “somehow engineered with intent.”
Following a Feb. 2, 2020 conference call, Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier, who has conducted gain-of-function research on influenza viruses, worried that focus on a lab leak “would unnecessarily distract top researchers from their active duties.”
Debate on the topic would also “do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular,” he wrote, following his argument against a lab leak that appeared to convince Collins.
Fouchier was not the only scientist with connections to gain-of-function research who argued vociferously against the lab leak hypothesis. Daszak, who funneled U.S. government funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) for the purpose of conducting research on bat-based coronaviruses, praised Fauci as “brave” for downplaying the lab leak hypothesis. (RELATED: Video Shows Wuhan-Linked Researcher Peter Daszak Describing ‘Killer’ Viruses Altered By ‘Colleagues In China’)
Fauci, Collins, and Tabak would also go on to blast the lab leak hypothesis as a “very destructive conspiracy” theory, after Fox News’ Bret Baier reported on concerns within the U.S. government that COVID-19 originated at WIV. While Collins looked for ways to “put down” the lab leak hypothesis, Fauci derided it as “a shiny object that will go away in times [sic].”
Fauci testified to the Senate in May 2021 that NIH did not fund gain-of-function research at WIV at all, despite the sub-grant to EcoHealth Alliance. Tabak was forced to correct that testimony in October 2021, informing Oversight Committee Ranking Member James Comer of Kentucky that EcoHealth had failed to notify the agency about its research activities and their results.