US and Chinese scientists were planning to create a new coronavirus before the pandemic erupted, leaked proposals show.
Last month, a grant application submitted to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) revealed that an international team of scientists had planned to mix genetic data of similar strains to create a new virus.
The grant application was made in 2018 and leaked to Drastic, the pandemic origins analysis group.
‘We will compile sequence/RNAseq data from a panel of closely related strains and compare full length genomes, scanning for unique SNPs representing sequencing errors.
‘Consensus candidate genomes will be synthesised commercially using established techniques and genome-length RNA and electroporation to recover recombinant viruses,’ the application states.
US and Chinese scientists were planning to create a new coronavirus before the pandemic erupted, leaked proposals show. Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, whose scientists were involved in a grant proposal for the research
This would result in a virus which had no clear ancestor in nature, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert told The Telegraph.
The expert, who asked the paper not to publish their name, said that, if such a method had been carried out, it could explain why no close match has ever been found in nature for Sars-CoV-2.
The closest naturally occurring virus is the Banal-52 strain, reported in Laos last month. It shares 96.8 per cent of Covid-19’s genome.
No direct ancestor, which would be expected share around 99.98 per cent, has been found so far.
The WHO expert told The Telegraph that the process detailed in the application would create ‘a new virus sequence, not a 100 per cent match to anything.’
‘They would then synthesise the viral genome from the computer sequence, thus creating a virus genome that did not exist in nature but looks natural as it is the average of natural viruses.
The grant application proposal was submitted by British zoologist Peter Daszak on behalf of a group, which included Daszak EcoHealth Alliance
‘Then they put that RNA in a cell and recover the virus from it.
‘This creates a virus that has never existed in nature, with a new ‘backbone’ that didn’t exist in nature but is very, very similar as it’s the average of natural backbones,’ the expert said.
The proposal was rejected and the database of viral strains at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was taken offline some 18 months later, making it impossible to check what scientists there were working on.
The institute’s scientists have consistently denied creating the coronavirus in their lab.
The grant application proposal was submitted by British zoologist Peter Daszak on behalf of a group, which included Daszak EcoHealth Alliance, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the University of North Carolina and Duke NUS in Singapore, The Telegraph reported.
Experts told the paper that creating an ‘ideal’ average virus could have been part of work to create a vaccine that works across coronaviruses.