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OPINION

Gain of Function Research: A Death Wish for the World

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

⚠️⚠️⚠️ Editor’s Note: This column was originally flagged by Google for containing “unreliable and harmful claims.” After bringing this to the public’s attention, Google issued a statement saying the article was “labeled in error” and has since removed the flag. ⚠️⚠️⚠️  

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The coronavirus outbreak brought the world’s attention to the dangers of gain-of-function research. This kind of research occurs when a virus is manipulated to increase its strength or contagiousness—literally, causing it to gain a function.

Dr. Anthony Fauci continues to repeat the talking points of the Chinese Communist Party and insists that SARS-CoV-2 spread from bats to an intermediate host animal, then to humans. A wet market in Wuhan, China, is allegedly where this “spillover” occurred.

Yet according to Chinese officials—who have a big incentive to disprove a laboratory accident—none of the animals at that market when it closed, and none of the animals in its supply chain were infected with SARS-CoV-2. In fact, in roughly three years since the pandemic began, not one animal has been identified that was infected with the virus before it infected humans.

In 2018, EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit organization, applied for funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In its grant application, EcoHealth proposed inserting a “proteolytic cleavage site” into bat coronaviruses that interact with furin, an enzyme in human cells. However, DARPA rejected that proposal because adding a furin cleavage site would make the coronavirus more lethal in humans.

Only 18 months later, COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan—but nowhere else. Unlike the original SARS virus and the 2013 avian flu, SARS-CoV-2 didn’t spring up in separate geographic regions (as you would expect of a virus circulating in another species). Instead, it spread from a single location and seemed well-adapted from the beginning to spark a once-in-a-century pandemic.  

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Genetically, the feature that equips the virus to replicate so quickly is a furin cleavage site in its spike protein. Yet no other SARS-related coronavirus has ever been found in nature exhibiting this feature

As we later learned, the Wuhan Institute of Virology partnered with EcoHealth on another project involving gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses. However, unlike the project DARPA had rejected, this one found a U.S. government agency willing to fund it: Dr. Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

This is why many in the scientific community believe COVID-19 may have started in a lab. In May, two professors at Columbia University wrote in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), “We do not know whether the insertion of the [furin cleavage site] was the result of natural evolution . . . or was the result of a deliberate introduction . . . into a SARS-like virus as part of a laboratory experiment. We do know that the insertion of such [furin cleavage site] sequences into SARS-like viruses was a specific goal of work . . . submitted to [DARPA] . . . We also know that [sic] this research team would be familiar with several previous experiments involving the successful insertion of [a furin cleavage site] sequence into SARS-CoV-1 and other coronaviruses, and they had a lot of experience in the construction of chimeric SARS-like viruses.”   

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In other words, while we do not yet know the origins of the pandemic, we do know that our government funded gain-of-function research by scientists in Wuhan who sought to study coronaviruses by inserting furin cleavage site sequences into them.

The supposed value of this type of research is to design countermeasures against future pandemics by modeling how viruses might mutate in nature. But messenger RNA (mRNA) technology now empowers us to develop vaccines within days of sequencing a new pathogen. With tools like that at our disposal, why would we create new mutations by guessing which ones might emerge in nature? Taking such a risk is a death wish for the world.

Rigorous oversight and strict biosafety controls will be imperative if this research technique is to continue in any form. That is why I held the first Senate hearing on gain-of-function research and demanded a full investigation into the source of the pandemic. 

I am honored to have been elected as ranking member of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC).

Now as ranking member of a major committee, I will hold members of our government accountable if they played any part in this catastrophic act. One thing I have promised since the very beginning of the pandemic is that I will subpoena every last document of Dr. Fauci, and the cover-up will end. If Dr. Fauci himself was complicit in knowledge of the gain of function research done at The Institute of Virology in Wuhan, I will send The Department of Justice a Congressional Criminal Referral, asking that Dr. Fauci be prosecuted. At that point, I would certainly hope that Dr. Fauci publicly apologizes to the families who suffered at the hands of NIH, EcoHealth, and his hubris.

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I remain hopeful that we will pursue robust and bipartisan investigations into the origins of COVID-19.

⚠️⚠️⚠️ Editor’s Note: This column was originally flagged by Google for containing “unreliable and harmful claims.” After bringing this to the public’s attention, Google issued a statement saying the article was “labeled in error” and has since removed the flag. ⚠️⚠️⚠️  

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