Wuhan and US scientists planned to release enhanced airborne coronavirus particles into Chinese bat populations to inoculate them against diseases that could jump to humans, leaked grant proposals dating from 2018 show, reports The Telegraph.
The documents show that just 18 months before the first COVID-19 cases appeared, researchers had submitted plans to release skin-penetrating nanoparticles and aerosols containing “novel chimeric spike proteins” of bat coronaviruses into cave bats in Yunnan, China.
They also planned to create chimeric viruses, genetically enhanced to infect humans more easily, and requested $14m from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) to fund the work. Darpa refused the application.
Papers, confirmed as genuine by a former member of the Trump administration, show they were hoping to introduce “human-specific cleavage sites” to bat coronaviruses that would make it easier for the virus to enter human cells.
The documents, adds The Telegraph, were released by Drastic, the web-based investigations team set up by scientists from across the world to look into the origins of COVID-19.
In a statement, Drastic said: “Given that we find in this proposal a discussion of the planned introduction of human-specific cleavage sites, a review by the wider scientific community of the plausibility of artificial insertion is warranted.”
The proposal also included plans to mix high-risk natural coronavirus strains with more infectious but less dangerous varieties.
The bid was submitted by British zoologist Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, the US-based organisation that has worked closely with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), researching bat coronaviruses. Team members included Dr Shi Zhengli, the WIV researcher dubbed “bat woman”, as well as US researchers from the University of North Carolina and the United States Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Centre.
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