Two world-renowned virologists appeared on Capitol Hill Tuesday and offered a stern defense of their findings that the coronavirus pandemic was natural in origin, telling skeptical Republicans that Dr. Anthony S. This effect.
The paper is at the center of unproven Republican assertions that Dr. Fauci and Dr. Francis S. Collins, then director of the National Institutes of Health, had tried to push back on the idea that a lab leak caused the pandemic. The two virologists who testified, Christian G. Andersen of Scripps Research and Robert F. Garry Jr. of Tulane University School of Medicine, were authors of the five papers.
Tuesday’s hearing, before the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, produced no new evidence to support the Republicans’ claims. The session was titled “An Investigation into the Proximity Origin of the Coverage”—a play on the title of the paper,”The close origin of SARS-CoV-2which was published in the journal Nature Medicine in March 2020.
“The claim that Dr. Fauci pushed for a ‘close origin’ formulation to refute the lab leak is not true,” said Dr. Andersen.
The Republicans’ accusations center around a series of emails that included Dr. Dr Collins and Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a charity that funds health research. Dr. Farrar is now the chief scientist at the World Health Organization.
Republicans have used the emails to suggest that scientists studying the origins of the virus, after originally expressing the idea that it may have been engineered in a lab, changed their minds due to input from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins, including during a Feb. 1, 2020 conference call. It included the authors of the proximal ancestry study.
The scientists said their views changed after days of intense work, which included studying virus traits that have also been identified in related coronaviruses in other species and consulting with virologists who have more experience studying coronaviruses.
Republicans have repeatedly asserted that Dr. Fauci called the call on February 1 and pushed for the paper’s publication as a way to quash public discussion of a possible lab leak. But both Dr. Andersen and Dr. Gary testified that Dr. Farrar made the call. Dr. Anderson said Dr. Fauci actually encouraged airing of any concerns about the lab leak.
“Specifically, I remember him saying that if you think it came from a lab, you should write it as a peer-reviewed paper,” Dr. Andersen he said in a written interview With the subcommittee, he recounted a phone call between the two on January 31, 2020.
Dr. Farrar, who was not credited as a co-author on the study, faced scrutiny for suggesting in a mid-February 2020 email that the authors change a sentence saying it was “unlikely” that the virus emerged through laboratory manipulation for someone saying it was “unexpected”. It is likely that the virus appeared in this way. A WHO spokesperson on Tuesday declined to answer questions about Dr. Farrar’s role.
In an email after the hearing, Dr. Fauci wrote that the notion that he tried to disprove the lab leak theory was “categorically incorrect.” He added, “This was confirmed several times during the hearing by two highly respected scholars who testified to that effect under oath.”
Sometimes the hearing took over the air from the lessons of competing sciences. Dr. Andersen repeatedly began his answers with “I think it’s important to understand…” The Republican members of the committee tried in vain to lecture virologists, sometimes making claims that were not entirely true.
“I’m making a scientific point here,” said the subcommittee’s chairman, Representative Brad Weinstrup, an Ohio Republican and podiatrist.
After the hearing, Mr. Weinstrup shook Dr. Andersen’s hand and said he hoped Dr. Andersen would feel that the hearing was professional. Dr. Andersen said he thinks it is. Under the political system, however, tension was evident between Republicans and scholars.
data on human case clustering around a market in Wuhan, China; the genetic diversity of viruses there; The presence of raccoon dog DNA in the same location as the genetic material from the virus has reinforced many scientists’ view that the virus emerged from the illegal wildlife trade in China.
But Republicans repeatedly pointed out on Tuesday that because so little is known about the Chinese researchers’ work, a leak at the lab could already have occurred. They hypothesized that US officials wanted to downplay this possibility because they wanted to avoid blaming Chinese research funding, and that scientists wanted to avoid alienating their Chinese counterparts.
In particular, they cited a February 2020 Slack letter from one of the final authors of the near-origin study, Andrew Rambaut, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh.
“Given the dirty show that would happen if any serious person accused the Chinese of even unintentionally releasing it,” he wrote, “my feeling is that we must say that since there is no evidence of a specially engineered virus, we cannot distinguish between natural evolution and and escape so we are content to attribute it to natural processes.”
Asked about the comment, Dr. Rambo said in an email Tuesday that he was expressing reluctance to speculate that the coronavirus had escaped from a laboratory because there were no signs of it being present in the laboratory.
“We had no evidence from the genome that it was anything other than a virus from nature,” he said, adding, “Don’t go accusing people of things if there is no evidence.”