Sunday, April 12, 2020

Controlaspecies: Gain Of Function Research And The Blame Game

harvardtothebighouse |  we have Peter Daszak.  His company, EcoHealth Alliance, which is a non-profit that depends largely on multi-million dollar government grants to function, has been partnering with Chinese researcher for years in an attempt to secure funding for more and more research into coronaviruses. At least they’re not really even pretending to be philanthropic.

And in one of the more transparent attempts at blatant PR-spin, Daszak was featured alongside one of the researchers who learned how to create hyper-virulent bat coronaviruses at UNC back in 2015, Zhengli Shi. Their article insists we should take Zhengli at her word when she claims to have not found a match after she checked COVID-19’s genome against everything in her lab. As if someone responsible for releasing the most virulent pathogen to hit humanity in modern history, one that’s already killed thousands and is projected to kill millions and millions more all across the globe, would simply fess-up to it, torpedoing her career and the years of research performed by her and her colleagues? And possibly opening all of them up to legal and other repercussions?

If you still aren’t sure whether the scientists involved with kind of research are being forthright, there’s Dr. Ralph Baric. It was in his lab at UNC that a hyper-virulent bat Franken-virus was created by splicing a new protein-spike on an existing coronavirus, creating a monster so vicious that a virologist with the Louis Pasteur Institute of Paris warned: If the [new] virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory.” It should also be noted that several years prior to tinkering directly with bat coronavirus spike-proteins, Baric orchestrated research that involved isolating a coronavirus from civets and then passing it through mammalian ACE2 receptor cells that were grown in the lab from kidney and brain samples – serial passage through host cell lines instead of entire hosts, which imparted a strong affinity for ACE2, and presumably created an airborne strain of coronavirus. And if cells derived from kidneys and brains were used for the serial passage development of COVID-19, that might help explain its affinity for attacking the kidneys and brains of its human hosts.

So if he was being honest, you might expect him to warn the public about the lethal potential coronaviruses pose during our current outbreak. However, when he was asked if the public should be worried about COVID-19 he said that people should be more worried about the seasonal flu. Pretty bizarre statement from a scientist who knew full well how dangerous coronaviruses could be, especially given the fact that not only was Zhengli Shi working in his lab on that project in 2015, but Xing-Yi Ge was too. Both of whom returned to Wuhan where they’ve continued their work for years.

Xing-Yi Ge is especially notable since in 2013 he became the very first scientist to isolate a bat coronavirus from nature that uses the ACE2 receptor, which is found in human, tree shrew, and ferret lungs and allows coronaviruses to become airborne. And as you might have learned by now, that’s the exact receptor used by COVID-19 to enter human cells – if anyone would know how to finagle that part of the coronavirus genome, it’d be him. So both Xing-Yi Ge and Zhengli Shi were part of the research team that created this hybridized hyper-virulent bat coronavirus under Baric, who’s actively downplayed the risk posed by COVID-19, and then returned to work in Wuhan, where funding provided in part by Daszak’s company allowed them to continue their work on coronaviruses with plenty of research to cut-and-paste into their work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Disease Engineering Technical Research Center.

And as Dr. Ian Malcolm puts it in Jurassic Park, it is never a good idea to futz around with science and research when you don’t fully understand it, nor its possible implications.

However it wasn’t just Daszak funding their work, Zhengli also secured millions of dollars in grant money from various American institutions including our Department of Defense as well as the U.S. Biological Defense Research Directorate, and millions more from other foreign governments.
So although the Chinese Communist Party deserves its share of the blame for attempting to cover the outbreak up, arresting the heroic scientists trying to warn us and issuing gag-orders and the destruction of evidence, this research likely wouldn’t have occurred at all if the NIH hadn’t lifted the ban on gain-of-function research in the first place. And it was funded directly by American tax dollars, by government officials willing to let others play god at their behest.

But now that the virus is out of the lab, are the private entities responsible for its creation going to bear any of the blame at all? Or will America and China continue to point fingers at each other until the worst happens?

“Mars will accuse Earth of using a bio-weapon. Earth will claim it was Mars. The Belt will blame the other two. It’s a good way to start a war and cover it up.”

One last spoiler warning… okay, so in The Expanse the central plot device pushing things forward is the discovery of a mysterious substance dubbed the protomolecule, which seems to have a mind of its own and seek out radiation as sustenance before then beginning “the Work,” a mysterious intergalactic goal that isn’t revealed until later seasons.

And its not individual nations who first attempt to harness the protomolecule, but their Peter Daszak, the aforementioned scientist and CEO named Jules-Pierre Mao, who attempts to weave it into the genomes of immuno-compromised children to create hybridized super-soldiers. Not for his own private army, but as a game-changing bio-weapon he’ll sell to whichever government is willing to pay the most for it. So in The Expanse, it takes amoral scientists as well as the collusion of officials affiliated with both governments for this research to happen and be hidden, and when these Hybrids are eventually dropped between both armies the carnage is immense.

Luckily, we haven’t gotten that far on earth yet, but the rhetoric between America and China has been heading in that direction – it’s been growing increasingly hostile as each blames the other for starting the pandemic and covering it up, with China even going so far as to threaten to cut off our supply of antibiotics and other life-saving medical goods.  Meanwhile Daszak, Baric, Zhengli, and others sit back counting their lucky stars and their money, since both governments and the public at large seem to have bought their story that there’s no way this virus leaked out of one of their labs, and every government on earth now wants to harness their research to help create vaccines and treatments.
And these researchers have been assisted by scientifically spurious and journalistically vacuous articles which mindlessly regurgitate claims from the Chinese government, and its scientific propaganda arm, the WHO, about how bad the outbreak was in the past and how contained it is now. As the Chinese government arrested whistle-blowers and sent agents out into the street in bio-hazard gear while carrying automatic weapons to detain anyone suspected of breaking quarantine, while literally welding apartments buildings shut, the American media fawned over China’s “decisive and heroic” actions.
Please take a moment to consider the fact that almost everyone reading the news to you on television was selected due to their connections or how photogenic they are, not because of any actual journalistic chops or ability to think critically.

So as two superpowers are pushed closer and closer to conflict, the research that’s almost certainly the source of COVID-19 not only continues unabated, but if anything talk of more funding to stop this sort of supposedly natural pandemic from happening again is pouring into the pockets of the people who, if they weren’t directly responsible, should certainly have been at the forefront of warning the world about the risks posed by lab-altered coronaviruses, and been disclosing the existence of this sort of research in the first place.

Oddly, each and everyone one of them is pretending that viral dual-use gain-of-function research has never occurred at all. Or not so oddly, when you stop and think about how much they have to lose if their role in this pandemic is revealed.

“The hardest part of this game is figuring out who the enemy really is.”

Other than the fact it doesn’t bear the direct marks of genetic tampering, just like the engineered hyper-virulent H5N1 Bird Flu, there’s literally nothing natural about COVID-19’s behavior or clinical presentation. And hauntingly, peer-reviewed research has noted that a crucial region of its genome “may provide a gain-of-function… for efficient spreading in the human population.”

Not only is it so distant from any other coronavirus that it forms its own clade, but there isn’t even a natural path for it to have emerged through – assertions about pangolins have always been dubious at best, but were even further debunked when analysis of COVID-19’s genome at the regions that most accurately show heritage made it “very unlikely” that pangolins had ever been involved at all.

Beyond that is the fact that its affinity for the ACE2 receptor is somewhere between 10 and 20 times higher than SARS, and it also creates viral loads thousands of times higher than SARS. These two characteristics point towards COVID-19 using antibody-dependent enhancement, or ADE, to enter human cells. This is when the virus is able to hijack white blood cells to more easily enter into the rest of our body’s cells, allowing it to seep deep into its hosts’ nervous systems, creating permanent neurological damage in the hosts it doesn’t kill outright. ADE could also explain why between 5% and 10% of once “recovered” patients in Wuhan have been showing up with fresh infections, since that phenomenon allows a virus to hijack the antibodies created by a previous infection to re-attack an old host. And curiously Zhengli Shi, of UNC and Wuhan fame, co-authored a 2019 paper which used inert viral shells to figure out exactly how SARS, with its affinity to the ACE2 receptor just like COVID-19, was able to harness ADE to hijack white blood cells for enhanced cell entry. A gain-of-function extension of this research would be exactly the kind of experiment that could’ve given birth to COVID-19, especially considering that 2019 paper managed to fine-tune the exact concentration of antibodies that would best facilitate ADE.

Both HIV and Dengue Fever use antibody-dependent enhancement to boost their virulence, however its generally a phenomenon that takes a long time to occur when it happens in nature. However COVID-19 looks like it may have had its ADE jacked into hyper-drive as it was passed between a series of animal hosts, since it has the aforementioned much stronger ability to bind to host cells and creates viral loads orders of magnitude higher, and also appears to immediately to be able to enter its hosts nervous systems, killing many of its victims by attacking the region of the brain that controls breathing, drastically lowering white blood cell counts early on in infections, and apparently re-infecting individuals who had already appeared to clear their infection.

Further increasing the possibility that COVID-19’s unique clinical presentation may be due to its ADE being juiced by laboratory engineering are the observations from an ER doctor who’s stated that I have seen things that I have never seen before… I have witnessed medical phenomenon that just don’t make sense in the context of treating a disease that is supposed to be viral pneumonia. In an interview with Medscape, Dr. Cameron Kyle-Sidell went on to say that the closest thing to the symptoms he was witnessing in his emergency room.