American higher education has deep ties to EcoHealth Alliance, Wuhan Institute of Virology

Researchers at UNC, UC Davis, Pitt, UGA, and more have worked with Wuhan scientists on coronavirus projects, including at least one involving gain of function research.

Dr. Zhengli Shi, head of coronavirus research at the Wuhan lab, hailed one discovery as "this missing link" she had been seeking for a decade.

Several American researchers have worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and EcoHealth Alliance on coronavirus-related research, including gain of function research, dating back more than a decade, and emails reveal that several professors were in contact with Dr. Anthony Fauci during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. 

As the intelligence community commences its investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, a series of scientific papers and studies belie a close relationship between American academia and the Wuhan lab, as well as EcoHealth Alliance, the multinational organization through which the NIH sent $600,000 to study the transmission of coronaviruses.  

What follows is a brief timeline of research publications on which university researchers collaborated with partners from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and EcoHealth Alliance. 

2007: The CDC’s Emerging Infections Diseases journal publishes a study from researchers at Chinese universities, the EcoHealth Alliance, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and several universities abroad about how bat coronaviruses evolve. One American researcher, then a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, is listed as a co-author, and the study was partially funded by the NIH.

2009: Researchers from the EcoHealth Alliance, the Wuhan Instiute of Virology, and the University of Pittsburgh demonstrate to the scientific community how coronaviruses evolve in different hosts. One of the authors, Dr. Zhengli Shi, is now the Director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. She would later become known as “Bat Woman” in the Chinese press. Two of her co-authors were, at the time, affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh, including one who “supervised and coordinated the project.”

2013: UC Davis researchers, in partnership with EcoHealth Alliance and funded by USAID, discovered “whole-genome sequences of two novel bat coronaviruses.” This involved isolating the virus, a process in which the Wuhan Institute of Virology was involved. “All sampling processes were performed by veterinarians with approval from Animal Ethics Committee of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIVH05210201) and EcoHealth Alliance under an inter-institutional agreement with University of California, Davis (UC Davis protocol no. 16048),” the paper notes. 

In UC Davis’ announcement, Shi – “Bat Woman” – said, “We have been searching for this missing link for 10 years, and finally we’ve found it.” 

2015: Scientific journal Nature publishes the results of coronavirus gain of function research conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina in partnership with Shi. 

Four years later, EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak would describe the project on a podcast, saying, “You can manipulate them [coronaviruses] in the lab pretty easily.” 

One of the American researchers on the project, Dr. Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina, would later sign on to an open letter in Science magazine criticizing the joint China-WHO investigation into the virus’ origins and saying, “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable.”  

November 2019: A group of researchers affiliated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and EcoHealth alliance announced “the first serological evidence of the spill-over of bat-origin coronaviruses into human populations in southern China.” One of the paper’s co-authors was at that time a researcher at the University of Colorado – Denver.  

Coronaviruses were being studied in Wuhan, and a U.S. researcher was involved with the project. EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak is also listed as a co-author; in April 2020, Peter Daszak personally thanked Fauci for publicly dismissing the lab leak hypothesis as false.  

Sounding the Alarm 

In February 2020, as the first wave of coronavirus infections was just beginning in the U.S., three professors tried to warn Fauci that the virus may have originated in a lab. Dr. Michael Jacobs and Dr. Michael Lockshin, both of Cornell Weill, and Dr. Alexander Tarakhovsky of The Rockefeller University, wrote: 

Fauci forwarded the message to an NIH staffer, with the note “please handle.” NIH employees contacted Jacobs and obtained his phone number, which they shared with Fauci, though it is unclear if Fauci ever spoke with Jacobs or his colleagues. 

Dr. Shi’s propaganda push 

The Wall Street Journal reported in April 2020 that Shi slammed the lab leak theory on social media, using a local Communist newspaper’s page to say that she would “advise those who believe and spread malicious media rumors to close their stinky mouths.” Also on social media, per Science Mag, Shi said she was willing to “bet my life that [the outbreak] has nothing to do with the lab.”  

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Months later, a new intelligence report suggests she may have lied. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, U.S. investigators found that three employees of the Wuhan lab fell ill with symptoms that landed them in the hospital in November 2019, even though Shi has said the lab did not receive its first COVID-19 samples until late December.  

Continued Academic Involvement 

University researchers remained in contact with Fauci throughout the pandemic, as evidenced by his emails. At least two of those professors have since changed their stance on the lab leak theory.  

Dr. Kristian Andersen, a professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research Institute, emailed Fauci on Jan. 31, 2020 saying that “some of the features” of the virus “(potentially) look engineered.” Andersen said that he and a group of colleagues “all find the genome [of COVID-19] inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” However, he added, “There are still further analyses to be done, so those opinions could still change.”

Andersen’s opinion changed within a week, as evidenced by an email he sent Fauci and others, including Ralph Baric and Peter Daszak, on February 4th. He decried “crackpot theories” about the virus potentially originating in a lab and noted a need to shut down “conspiracy theorists” in strong language. Buzzfeed News obtained these emails through the Freedom of Information Act.  

In an email obtained by U.S. Right to Know, Andersen also advised in February 2020 that a public document about the virus should not include “language suggesting that the virus might evolve (i.e., “mutate” to most people) towards better infectivity or transmission.” 

Kristian Andersen co-authored a paper in March 2020 “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2” along with other American researchers, asserting that the virus most likely did not originate in a lab. Emails reveal that the paper’s authors were in contact with Fauci prior to publication, and that Fauci may have had input on its contents. In an email dated March 6, 2020, Andersen sent Fauci a draft of the letter, thanked Fauci for his “advice and leadership,” and asked for comments and suggestions on the paper’s most recent draft. 

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One of Andersen’s co-authors, Dr. Ian Lipkin of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, would later shift his opinion about how certain we can be about the origins of the virus. In May 2021, more than a year after the “proximal origin” paper attempted to quell the lab leak theory, Lipkin told reporter Donald G. McNeil that he had wrongly assumed that the Wuhan Institute was using BSL-4 labs, the most secure type of lab, to conduct coronavirus research. Instead, the Wuhan lab had been using BSL-2 labs to research coronaviruses. Lipkin was careful to note that there is, in his view, no direct evidence of a lab leak, he said of the use of BSL-2 labs, “That’s screwed up...People should not be looking at bat viruses in BSL-2 labs. My view has changed.”

Just weeks ago, a U.S. higher education institution was still taking Shi at her word: Rutgers University allowed Shi a platform to discuss how bat coronaviruses are transmitted across species. 

Campus Reform contacted every U.S. university listed as a partner by either the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the EcoHealth Alliance on their respective websites. Only one responded: The University of Alabama directed Campus Reform to a letter from Department of Education officials stating that investigators had found no connection between it and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito