According to virologist Christian Drosten, some of the projects undertaken at the Wuhan institute were dangerous and even when “they really didn’t have to be.” However, he still finds it unlikely the original COVID-19 virus emerged from a laboratory leak. The origins of COVID-19 are still disputed, even two years after the first case was confirmed by the World Health Organisation.
While many believe it was passed on to humans by an infected animal that was sold in a market, others uphold that it was accidentally leaked from a lab in Wuhan.
In an interview with the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, Mr Drosten explained current findings on the origin of the coronavirus.
According to Mr Drosten, published project reports reveal that “things were done in Wuhan that could be described as dangerous. It really didn’t have to be.
“But the Sars-CoV-2 virus could not have been the outcome of this.”
Collaborating on a project with the US NGO “Ecohealth Alliance”, The Institute of Virology in Wuhan had carried out “gain-of-function experiments”.
This is a kind of is medical research that involves genetically altering an organism in a way that may enhance the biological functions of gene products.
Mr Drosten said: “Bat viruses were given new spike proteins using genetic engineering.
“It turned out that the viruses constructed in this way were able to multiply better.
“It also became known that there were plans to incorporate furin cleavage sites, but this was to be done in an American laboratory and the project was not funded.”
He also noted that COVID-19 had a furin cleavage site that allows it to invade airway cells.
He said: “The insertion of a furin cleavage site would be a theoretically conceivable laboratory experiment.
“When it comes to influenza, however, such furin cleavage sites are constantly being created by nature.”
While he said that the lab leak theory was unlikely, Mr Drosten did not want to rule it out completely.
He said: “Nothing is impossible. I don’t want to rule it out, but it’s just a possibility right now.”
He did, however, question China on its silence over the origins of the virus, saying: “There is a lack of peer-reviewed scientific publications.
“Research into virus diversity is actually a major strength of China’s science.
“But suddenly there is no new research after Sars-CoV-2″.
At the same time, Drosten also slammed American virologists for not informing the public about the experiments in Wuhan at an early stage.
He said: “Above all, some people in the USA knew about these experiments.
“Right from the start, when these public allegations came up, one should have communicated proactively what was being done in the laboratory.
“Many scientists, including myself, have vouched for our colleagues from Wuhan in The Lancet at the time but were not informed about these projects.
“If I had known about it, I would have at least had questions.”