Chinese scientists working on tropical Hainan Island off China’s southern coast have discovered eight new viruses in that island’s rodent population, and have not ruled out the capability of those viruses to species-jump to humans. One of the viruses has been confirmed to have been a coronavirus; the COVID-19 virus was also a coronavirus, as are several of the viruses that can cause the syndrome we call “the common cold,” although rhinoviruses are more common in those cases.
Researchers tasked with preparing the world for future pandemic took almost 700 samples from rodents living in Hainan, just off China‘s southern coast.
Eight novel viruses — including one belonging to the same family as Covid — were uncovered in the project, funded by the Chinese Government.
Experts said the discovered pathogens had a ‘high probability’ of infecting humans should they ever cross the species barrier.
As a result, they called for further experiments on the viruses to determine exactly what their effects on humans could be.
Lots of people from lots of governments as well as academic institutions and private-sector organizations do these kinds of surveys, of course. That’s how we learn about viruses, or about anything else in the natural world — by going out, taking samples, and examining things. But there’s a different wrinkle in this case.
The findings were shared in the journal Virologica Sinica, the publishing arm of the Chinese Society for Microbiology (CSM).
CSM is linked to the state-affiliated China Association of Science and Technology, which ‘accepts administrative supervision’ from the Chinese Government’s ‘Ministry of Civil Affairs’.
Virologica Sinica is also edited by Dr Shi Zhengli, an influential scientist described as China’s ‘bat woman’ who works inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology – considered to be the source of the Covid pandemic in some corners.
The journal’s editorial board also features over a dozen other academics linked to the WIV.
You can read the original Virologica Sinica article here. The last sentence of that article’s conclusion might raise some concerns:
The pathogenicity and associated impact of these novel viruses on humans and animals should be evaluated in further studies.
This is, yes, the same Wuhan virology lab that set off alarms about their safety practices at the outbreak of the COVID-19 panic. (There, the Wuhan lab isn’t alone.) This is also the same Wuhan virology lab where $2 million in U.S. taxpayer funds were used to conduct research, including gain-of-function research.
If that doesn’t set some alarm bells ringing, it’s not at all clear what would.
Coming as it does, hot on the heels of the impeccably coiffed Governor Newsom flying to the Middle Kingdom to stump for Chinese electric cars, and at a time when the American public is growing good and tired of the whole COVID scare, the timing of the discovery is interesting as well. Granted, these kinds of expeditions go on all the time, and granted as well that China doesn’t have an unlimited pool of virologists out there looking for work.
Disclaimer: Speaking as a biologist myself (although not a virologist), it’s reasonable to expect that researchers would want to know more about any potentially dangerous pathogens; that would logically be the first step towards figuring out how to counter them. But after the 2020 COVID panic, the origins of which are suspiciously tied into the Wuhan Institute and its $2 million in funding for the conduct of gain-of-function research, the idea of having this Chinese laboratory conduct research on these new viruses is troubling at best.
Personally, I’d feel a lot better if it was, say, the Pasteur Institute that was doing the work.