Chinese military researchers were part of a project that created mice with “humanized” lungs — apparently to test the infectiousness of various viruses, according to a blockbuster report Thursday.
The bio-engineered rodents were developed using gene-editing technology known as CRISPR and are mentioned in an April 2020 study that US government virologists flagged for National Security Council officials investigating the origin of the coronavirus, Vanity Fair said.
The study’s 23 co-authors include 11 who work for the Chinese army’s medical research institute, the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, and their project involved determining the mice’s susceptibility to the virus that causes COVID-19.
But when the NSC investigators worked backward to establish a timeline for the study, they realized that the critters were created sometime during summer 2019 — before the coronavirus pandemic exploded, according to Vanity Fair.
That discovery reportedly led NSC officials to suspect that the Chinese military was using the mice to test whether various viruses could infect humans — and that they’d uncovered evidence supporting the theory that the pandemic was the result of a lab leak.
But when they reached out to other agencies with the information, “We were dismissed,” Anthony Ruggiero, the NSC’s senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense, told Vanity Fair.
“The response was very negative,” he added.
Meanwhile, the lead coronavirus researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — Shi Zhengli, also known as “Bat Woman” for her work with the flying mammals — appears to have tested two novel but undisclosed coronaviruses on humanized mice to gauge their effectiveness, Vanity Fair said.
The magazine cited as evidence comments Shi made to a scientific journal, as well as information contained in a Chinese government database.
Shi has adamantly denied that the coronavirus leaked from a WIV lab or that the facility conducts military research.
But in January, a fact sheet released by the US State Department disclosed that researchers at the WIV had collaborated on secret projects, “including laboratory animal experiments,” since at least 2017.
A former national security official who reviewed classified US information also told told Vanity Fair that inside the WIV, military and civilian researchers are “doing animal research in the same fricking space.”
China has denounced the State Department’s fact sheet as “full of fallacies” and the “last madness” of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who it called “Mr. Lies.”
The document was issued five days before President Biden was inaugurated and hasn’t been disavowed by his administration.
Last week, Biden also ordered a 90-day probe by the US intelligence community into the origins of the coronavirus, with a spokeswoman saying that nothing has been “ruled out” — including the possibility it was deliberately released.
Neither Shi nor the director of the WIV responded to repeated requests for comment, including a list of detailed questions, Vanity Fair said.