By Daniel R. Lucey M.D., MPH, FIDSA
In response to a series of questions asked by Science magazine’s Jon Cohen, the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s internationally-renowned bat coronavirus researcher and collaborator (with scientists in the United States, Singapore, and elsewhere), Dr. Zhengli Shi provided key facts about her work. Among questions she addressed were ones related to:
- The SARS virus (2003);
- SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19);
- Other coronaviruses such as the bat virus RaTG13;
- The investigation of the Wuhan Seafood Market;
- Searching for SARS-CoV-2 in farmed animals and livestock in Hubei province;
- Searching for bat viruses in Hubei province;
- Any unpublished potential gain-of-function laboratory research?
Examples of such key information (quoted) from Dr. Zhengli Shi’s answers to Jon Cohen’s questions in the July 31, 2020 Science story: “Wuhan coronavirus hunter Shi Zhengli speaks out.” The complete list of questions and answers is available in this July 31 story.
- “We have done bat virus surveillance in Hubei Province for many years, but have not found that bats in Wuhan or even the wider Hubei Province carry any coronaviruses that are closely related to SARS-CoV-2. I don’t think the spillover from bats to humans occurred in Wuhan or in Hubei Province,”
- “Under the deployment of Hubei Provincial Government, our team, alongside researchers from Huazhong Agricultural University, collected environmental samples and frozen animal samples in Huanan seafood market. We detected SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acids only in the environmental samples such as roller shutter door handles, the ground and sewage, but not in the animals.”
- “Under the deployment of the Hubei Provincial Government, our team and researchers from Huazhong Agricultural University collected samples of farmed animals and livestock from farms around Wuhan and in other places in Hubei Province. We did not detect any SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acids in these samples.”
- “We have isolated three closely-related bat coronaviruses over the last 15 years (here an isolated virus is a live virus which can grow in cultured cells in the laboratory) and all of them are SARS-related coronaviruses. These bat viruses share 79.8% sequence identity and are distantly related to SARS-CoV-2.”
- “We performed in vivo experiments in transgenic (human ACE2 expressing) mice and civets in 2018 and 2019 in the Institute’s biosafety laboratory. The viruses we used were bat SARSr-CoV close to SARS-CoV. Operation of this work was undertaken strictly following the regulations on biosafety management of pathogenic microbes in laboratories in China. The results suggested that bat SARSr-CoV can directly infect civets and can also infect mice with human ACE2 receptors. Yet it showed low pathogenicity in mice and no pathogenicity in civets. These data are being sorted and will be published soon”.
- “Recently we tested the sera from all staff and students in the lab and nobody is infected by either bat SARSr-CoV or SARS-CoV-2. To date, there is “zero infection” of all staff and students in our institute.”
- “Among all the bat samples we collected, the RaTG13 virus was detected in only one single sample. In 2020, we compared the sequence of SARS-CoV-2 and our unpublished bat coronavirus sequences and found it shared a 96.2% identity with RaTG13. RaTG13 has never been isolated or cultured.”
- “No”. (in response to the question: “Did you do or collaborate on any gain-of-function experiments with coronaviruses that were not published, and, if so what are the details?”)
Daniel Lucey, M.D. MPH, FIDSA, FACP, is an infectious diseases physician and adjunct professor of infectious diseases at Georgetown University Medical Center, a senior scholar at the Georgetown University O’Neil Institute, Anthropology Research Associate, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Global Health Committee.He has served as a volunteer medical responder to outbreaks that included the West Africa Ebola crisis. He has collected information on outbreaks starting in 2001 with cases of anthrax in 2001, and including smallpox vaccination 2002, SARS 2003, H5N1 Flu 2004, MERS in 2013, and Ebola in April, 2014, He has gathered, and updated information on the spread of the coronavirus here since Jan. 6.