Sen. Rand Paul tussled with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday during a Senate hearing on the pandemic response over the origins of the novel coronavirus, specifically the notion that China's Wuhan Institute of Virology was experimenting to enhance COVID's ability to infect humans.
“Juicing up super virus is not new,” Paul, R-Ky., said, singling out a collaboration between virologist Dr. Ralph Baric at the University of North Carolina and Shi Zhengli, a Chinese virologist who researches SARS-like coronaviruses of bat origin, on how to create super viruses.
“This gain of function research has been funded by the U.S.,” Paul added. “Dr. Baric and Xi worked together to insert bat virus spike protein into the backbone of the deadly SARS virus and then used this manmade super virus to infect human airway cells. … Can you imagine if a SARS virus that’s been juiced up and had viral proteins added to it to the spike protein, if that were released accidentally?”
Gain-of-function experiments involve genetically modifying viruses to make them more infectious in an effort to better understand the way in which a pathogen adapts to environmental pressure, allowing disease control measures to be better planned and potential vaccines and therapies to be explored.
Paul, a physician who began practicing ophthalmology in 1993, then asked whether Fauci supported NIH funding of the lab in Wuhan.
"Sen. Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely, entirely and completely incorrect," Biden’s chief medical adviser responded. "The NIH has not ever, and does not now, fund 'gain-of-function research' in the Wuhan Institute."
"Do you fund Dr. Baric's gain-of-function research?" Paul asked.
"Dr. Baric is not doing gain-of-function research, and if it is, it is according to the guidelines and is being conducted in North Carolina,” Fauci said ... “If you look at the grant and if you look at the progress report, it is not gain-of-function, despite the fact that people tweet that, write about it."
Paul pointed out that at least 200 scientists from the Cambridge Working Group argued that the Wuhan research was gain of function even if the NIH didn’t define it as such and accused Fauci of “fooling with mother nature” and allowing super viruses to be created.
“I do not favor gain-of-function research in China. That is not correct,” said Fauci, eventually adding: “You are saying things that are not correct!”
Paul also asked Fauci whether he could categorically confirm that COVID-19 did not leak from the Wuhan lab.
“I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done, and I am fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on China. However, I will repeat again, the NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Questions remain about the origin and the “lab leak hypothesis,” which the World Health Organization has said should be investigated.
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