The National Institutes of Health (NIH) imposed a three-year pause on funding for “gain-of-function (GOF) experiments involving influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses” from 2014 to 2017, in part to prevent accidental releases of deadly new viruses from laboratories — a pause with potential relevance for understanding today’s ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Suspicions are growing that the virus may have escaped a lab in Wuhan, China, though the scientific consensus last year was that its emergence was “most likely the result of natural selection,” and that “[i]t is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation.”
However, scientists have developed the ability to create such coronaviruses.
In November 2015, a letter in Nature Medicine reported that scientists had been able to create a “spike” protein on a SARS-like coronavirus — one apparently impervious to vaccine.
One of the scientists listed as a co-author was Zheng-li Shi, the “bat woman” from the Wuhan Institute