6

The Daily Mail has their usual kind of unclear/clickbait article headlined "U.S. government gave $3.7million grant to Wuhan lab at center of coronavirus leak scrutiny that was performing experiments on bats from the caves where the disease is believed to have originated".

The only clear thing from that DM article is that some US politicians and lobbyists are enraged by the[ir] discovery of this [alleged] grant:

US Congressman Matt Gaetz said: 'I'm disgusted to learn that for years the US government has been funding dangerous and cruel animal experiments at the Wuhan Institute, which may have contributed to the global spread of coronavirus, and research at other labs in China that have virtually no oversight from US authorities.'

On Saturday, Anthony Bellotti, president of the US pressure group White Coat Waste, condemned his government for spending tax dollars in China, adding: 'Animals infected with viruses or otherwise sickened and abused in Chinese labs reportedly may be sold to wet markets for consumption once experiments are done.'

The Wuhan lab's BSL-4 facility was built with French assistance, according to Reuters. The BBC has a bit of vague confirmation of US funding, but hardly anymore details:

Indeed, the WIV [Wuhan Institute of Virology] had received funding from the US, along with assistance from American research institutes. The [US diplomatic] cables recommended giving them even more help.

So what exactly did the US sponsor there?

  • @indigochild: I guess it would have been better to ask on Skeptics if the headline claim is even remotely true, then. I gave the DM the benefit of the doubt... – SX welcomes ageist gossip Apr 18 at 3:25
8

Identifying an Unknown Disease, and Understanding the Transmission of Disease Between Bats and Humans

The research was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (a part of NIH). It was intended to research the risk of new SARS-like diseases coming from bats in China.

A quick google search located an (non-academic) article on the NIH site which discusses this grant and research. It seems that a SARS-like virus had been killing pigs in China. They initially suspected a disease called PEDV, but this research determines it was a coronavirus (SADS-CoV).

Their Nature article summarizes their research. I don't feel qualified to interpret it, but I'll provide their abstract here:

Cross-species transmission of viruses from wildlife animal reservoirs poses a marked threat to human and animal health1. Bats have been recognized as one of the most important reservoirs for emerging viruses and the transmission of a coronavirus that originated in bats to humans via intermediate hosts was responsible for the high-impact emerging zoonosis, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Here we provide virological, epidemiological, evolutionary and experimental evidence that a novel HKU2-related bat coronavirus, swine acute diarrhoea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-CoV), is the aetiological agent that was responsible for a large-scale outbreak of fatal disease in pigs in China that has caused the death of 24,693 piglets across four farms. Notably, the outbreak began in Guangdong province in the vicinity of the origin of the SARS pandemic. Furthermore, we identified SADS-related CoVs with 96–98% sequence identity in 9.8% (58 out of 591) of anal swabs collected from bats in Guangdong province during 2013–2016, predominantly in horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus spp.) that are known reservoirs of SARS-related CoVs. We found that there were striking similarities between the SADS and SARS outbreaks in geographical, temporal, ecological and aetiological settings. This study highlights the importance of identifying coronavirus diversity and distribution in bats to mitigate future outbreaks that could threaten livestock, public health and economic growth.

The Process

According to the article, this research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funds both basic and applied medical research.

That isn't much to go on, but NIH publishes online data about all the grants they receive. Unfortunately, their online portal (NIH Reporter) is down this weekend for maintenance.

Another article (in a publication I'm not familiar with called Nation of Change) links to this journal article in PLoS One. Indeed, this paper on bats and coronavirus claims to have been funded by the NIH and provides a contract number (R01AI110964). That contract number was found in the awards database with full details here.

Interestingly, the funds were not awarded to the Wuhan Institute, but another organization called Ecohealth Alliance in Brooklyn, NY. It's fairly ordinary for one institution to subcontract some part of research to another, but it's not going to be recorded in the NIH's data. Typically this is recorded in the institution's Schedule of Expenditure of Federal Awards (SEFA) which is one of their audited financial statements, but I wasn't able to locate Ecohealth Alliance's.

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