Controversial genetic research which is suspected to have created the Covid virus should be banned under the equivalent of nuclear test treaties, a leading Tory MP has demanded.
Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke out amid growing concern in the international scientific community about ‘Gain of Function’ experiments, which aim to make animal viruses more transmissible, and able to infect humans.
Documents leaked last month confirmed revelations published by The Mail on Sunday over the past 18 months about the secret – and risky – work being carried out by Chinese scientists in Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak first took hold in late 2019.
Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke out amid growing concern in the international scientific community about ‘Gain of Function’ experiments, which aim to make animal viruses more transmissible, and able to infect humans
ontroversial genetic research which is suspected to have created the Covid virus should be banned under the equivalent of nuclear test treaties, a leading Tory MP has demanded. Pictured: The PM
MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT
Perhaps the greatest mystery in modern science is the origin of the Covid-19 virus.
Even more alarming than our lack of knowledge is one possible answer. This is the suggestion, taken with increasing seriousness by many credible scientists, that it may have been created in a laboratory or escaped during risky research.
Those on the upper slopes of the British security and political establishment like to treat such suggestions with amused contempt, acting as if they were in possession of deep mysteries which they cannot share with ordinary mortals.
But are they just dodging an awkward and inconvenient problem? In a gripping and worrying article in The Mail on Sunday today, an eminent expert says that, as things stand, the world should ban certain types of experiment, known as ‘Gain of Function’, as a precaution against the escape of an engineered virus from a lab.
Simon Wain-Hobson is no panic-monger. He is an eminent professor at the prestigious Pasteur Institute who discovered the genetic blueprint for the HIV virus.
First, he points out that astonishing advances now allow scientists to tinker with viruses in a way that is actually terrifying, creating dangerous new strains not found in nature.
Then he argues that there is no actual practical purpose for such activity.
Given these facts, and the appalling possibility that an engineered virus might one day get out of a laboratory and bring about another pandemic, the case for a ban on Gain of Function experiments is unanswerable.
The higher levels of the State may pretend to be unworried about such a possibility, but they would be better off following Prof Wain-Hobson’s advice.
Britain has high standing in this area of science, and a good record in setting up international conventions to prevent risky research.
Boris Johnson and Liz Truss should act now for the good of the planet.
Details of a grant application submitted to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency showed that scientists in America and at the Wuhan Institute of Virology requested funding to create entirely new coronaviruses that did not exist in nature by combining the genetic code of closely related strains. The Wuhan site was one of just five laboratories in the world carrying out this Gain of Function research.
Now one of the world’s most eminent academics has added his powerful voice to concerns. Simon Wain-Hobson, Emeritus Professor at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, and a pioneer of HIV research, is also calling for a treaty banning such experiments.
He says the pandemic has ‘shed alarming new light’ on Gain of Function research which ‘conjures up shades of the early days of the AIDS epidemic and takes me back to the origins of its virus, HIV-1’.
Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, Prof Wain-Hobson says that when scientists started to carry out the work, he was ‘among those wondering what would happen if there was a lab accident and a researcher became infected with such a virus, against which we had no immunity, and then they inadvertently walked it out of the lab’.
Mr Tugendhat, who has repeatedly called for more transparency from China over the origins of the pandemic, said: ‘Decades ago nuclear test ban treaties were negotiated to keep us safe.
‘Today we need an agreement to ban virus-testing in anywhere but the most secure medical institutions. This is a risk to us all and we need the right to check each other just as the International Atomic Energy Agency checks all nuclear powers.’
The Mail on Sunday was the first mainstream media outlet in the world to report, on April 5 last year, that members of the international intelligence community feared the virus had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
We followed up with a string of further disclosures, including the revelation that the institute had been researching bats from the caves scientists believe were the original source of the virus, with the help of a $3.7 million (£2.7 million) grant from the US government.
President Donald Trump cancelled the funding as a result of our story. His successor, Joe Biden, ordered a report into Covid’s origins in August, which found that US intelligence agencies were divided over whether the lab was responsible.