The chairman of a COVID-19 origins task force affiliated with the Lancet scientific journals has disbanded the commission over its ties to controversial researcher Peter Daszak and his EcoHealth Alliance.
Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday that he was concerned with the links to Daszak, who led the task force until recusing himself from that role in June.
Daszak, who lives in New York, devoted his career to championing so-called ‘gain of function’ research to engineer coronavirus to be more deadly to humans, arguing that it was the best chance to detect and prevent a global pandemic.
Shocking documents released this week revealed his 2018 proposal to help the Wuhan Institute of Virology engineer bat coronaviruses to be more deadly, by inserting genetic features that are similar to those found in SARS-CoV-2.
Peter Daszak is seen in China participating in the WHO investigation into the origins of COVID-19. The Lancet origins panel has been disbanded over its ties to Daszak
New documents show Daszak’s ‘Project DEFUSE’ funding request to DARPA, seeking $14.2 million to fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses with the Wuhan lab
There is still no conclusive proof as to whether COVID-19, a coronavirus linked to bats, first jumped to humans from a wild animal or in a lab setting.
But from the early days of the pandemic, Daszak has made every effort to paint the lab origin hypothesis as a ‘conspiracy theory,’ including masterminding a letter in the Lancet that established a veneer of scientific consensus that natural origin was the only possibility.
If the virus did emerge from a lab performing the experiments he championed, it would be a crushing blow to Daszak’s research. Natural origin, on the other hand, would vindicate his life’s work seeking to prevent the next pandemic.
Several members of the disbanded Lancet task force have collaborated with Daszak or EcoHealth Alliance on projects in the past.
‘I just didn’t want a task force that was so clearly involved with one of the main issues of this whole search for the origins, which was EcoHealth Alliance,’ Dr. Sachs told the Journal.
Sachs said a new Lancet Covid-19 Commission would continue studying the origins for a report to be published in mid-2022, but broaden its scope to include input from other experts on biosafety concerns, including risky laboratory research.
It comes just days after the release of bombshell documents showing Daszak’s 2018 funding request to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeking $14.2 million to fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab.
Peter Daszak, right, and other members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of COVID-19 arrive at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in February
A worker is seen inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan in a file photo. A shocking grant proposal reveals Daszak’s plans to help the Wuhan lab engineer bat coronaviruses to be more deadly
The proposal, titled Project DEFUSE, was leaked to independent researchers with the DRASTIC research team.
In it Daszak requests funding for an elaborate project to genetically enhance coronaviruses and inoculate bats in Yunnan, China in the hopes of stopping new viruses jumping from bats to humans.
The funding request was denied by DARPA, but the proposal reveals a shocking line of research that could have conceivably been carried out independently by Chinese members of Daszak’s team, who included the infamous ‘bat woman’ Shi Zhengli.
A thorough investigation by The Atlantic was unable to to cast doubt on the authenticity of the documents. ‘This is the proposal that was not funded,’ a spokesperson for US Geological Survey, which oversaw part of the proposal, told the magazine.
The most alarming aspect of the research plan revealed in the documents is a plan to search viral genetic databases for new types of ‘furin cleavage sites’ which help a virus attack a host.
According to the proposal, ‘high-risk’ versions of these sites, once identified, would then be grafted onto SARS-like bat coronaviruses via genetic engineering.
This revelation is alarming because SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, has just such a furin cleavage site, which increases its power and deadliness, but a similar feature has never been observed in other SARS-like coronaviruses in nature.
Supporters of the lab leak theory have long pointed to this fact as evidence of lab origin, and even genetic engineering.
Lab leak deniers say that there may well be a SARS-like coronavirus in nature with the furin site, but that it just hasn’t been discovered yet.
Daszak was the principal investigator for Project DEFUSE. The team also included Wuhan researchers, including the infamous ‘bat woman’ Shi Zhengli
Daszak believed that his work would prevent a global coronavirus pandemic, but the leaked proposal (above) reveals an alarming line of proposed research
Daszak’s 2018 proposal calls for testing different strains of the engineered viruses on ‘humanized mice’ to see which would be deadliest to humans. The Wuhan lab is known to use just such mice, with humanized lungs, to carry out research.
Once the deadliest viral strains had been identified, Daszak proposed attempting to inoculate bats against them in Yunnan Province, which is around 1,240 miles south west of Wuhan.
Daszak believed that his work would prevent a global coronavirus pandemic, such as the one that is underway, by decreasing the likelihood of natural spillover of dangerous SARS-like coronaviruses from bats to humans.
‘Our goal is to defuse the potential for spillover of novel bat-origin high-zoonotic risk SARS-related coronaviruses in Asia,’ his proposal states.
Daszak was the lead investigator for the proposal, which also listed Wuhan’s Shi Zhengli and Ralph Baric of UNC Chapel Hill, an American virologist known for doing coronavirus gain-of-function studies in his lab.
In rejecting the proposal for Project DEFUSE, administrators at DARPA noted that the plan ‘does not mention or assess potential risks of Gain of Function (GoF) research.’
‘The proposal hardly addresses or discusses ethical, legal, and social issues,’ noted DARPA.
Though the US funding was not granted, the proposal reveals for the first time that the top gain-of-function researchers around the world, including in Wuhan, were looking at furin cleavage sites, and raises questions about whether China funded similar research.
China has repeatedly insisted the virus spilled naturally into humans from bats, denying that a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is a possibility.
The global death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic now stands at 4.55 million. In the US, the virus has killed 688,000 since last March.
Daszak did not immediately respond to a request for comment from DailyMail.com on Saturday.