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The Smoking Gun in Wuhan

The Smoking Gun in Wuhan


Theories of a lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 have largely focused on the presence in the genome of the famous furin cleavage site. Less attention has been paid to other anomalies and, in particular, the presence of the so-called HIV inserts first flagged by the Indian research team Pradhan et al. in late January 2020 and quickly dismissed as untenable conspiracy-mongering.

Thus, when an Anglosphere group of scientists around Kristian Andersen came to Anthony Fauci at almost exactly the same time with their concerns that the virus had been engineered, their focus was on the furin cleavage site and they took great pains to distance themselves from Pradhan et al. and the HIV inserts.

But is that because they did not view them as anomalous, or rather because they were worried that the implications of the anomaly were too shocking to be pursued? The content of their FOIA’d emails and Slack messages makes clear that it is the latter. They too saw the anomaly, but they did not want to talk about it, since, as Edward Holmes put it, in both a February 4th 2020 email to Jeremy Farrar and a Slack group message on the same day, “this will make us look like loons.”  

(More fully, Holmes wrote to his colleagues, referring to the first sketch of what would become their infamous ‘Proximal Origins’ paper, “Good idea not to mention all the other anomalies as this will make us look like loons.”)

As the Slack messages likewise make abundantly and sometimes embarrassingly clear, questions of expediency and even career considerations were never far from the minds of Andersen and his colleagues.

But someone who was too old to care about such matters was the late French virologist Luc Montagnier: none other than the man who is credited with having discovered HIV or the AIDS virus. Montagnier took the findings of Pradhan et al. very seriously, reproduced them independently with the help of the bio-mathematician Jean-Claude Perez and concluded that SAR-CoV-2 must have been created in a lab. He would indeed be widely treated as a “loon” for his troubles – and this despite the fact that the supposed “loon” had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine barely 10 years earlier for his discovery of HIV.

In an April 16th, 2020 interview with the French health news site Pourquoi Docteur? (Why Doctor?), Montagnier dismissed the idea that SARS-CoV-2 had emerged from a wet market as “a nice story” and insisted that, in light of the HIV inserts, the more likely scenario was that it had been engineered in an effort to create an HIV vaccine using a coronavirus as vector.

(Although the accompanying article is still online, the audio of Luc Montagnier’s interview with Pourquoi Docteur? is no longer available on the website or the podcast platform. Fortunately, a recording of it has been preserved on Facebook here.)

It is well known, after all, that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) had been conducting experiments with bat-borne coronaviruses. This is precisely why Kristian Andersen was convinced that a lab escape of the virus was far more probable than a natural origin. “I think the main thing still in my mind,” he wrote in a Slack message, “is that the lab escape version of this is so friggin’ likely to have happened because they were already doing this type of work and the molecular data is fully consistent with that scenario.”

Andersen wrote this to his colleagues just before getting on the famous February 1st 2020 conference call during which the German coronavirus specialist Christian Drosten and the Dutch gain-of-function researcher Ron Fouchier are known to have harshly upbraided them for entertaining the ‘lab-leak’ hypothesis.

But surely no one in Wuhan was trying to create an HIV vaccine, and that is presumably why Andersen and his colleagues thought Montagnier’s theory was ‘friggin’’ unlikely and felt comfortable making lame attempts to diss the Nobel Prize laureate (“Nobel Prize Disease is a known thing”) in their conversations.

But the fact of the matter is that someone was trying to create an HIV vaccine in Wuhan.

For this was precisely the aim of the longstanding German-Chinese cooperative virology project about which I have written herehere, and here and which gave rise to a full-fledged joint German-Chinese virology lab right in Wuhan. Indeed, as I have shown, the joint German-Chinese lab, located at Union Hospital on the left bank of the Yangtze River, is not just in Wuhan, but is also – unlike the Wuhan Institute of Virology – right in the area of the initial outbreak of Covid-19 cases in the city.

Furthermore, the Wuhan Institute of Virology is itself an official partner in the German-Chinese virology network – and, as will be seen momentarily, key members of the network who were conducting experiments meant to facilitate the development of an HIV vaccine are based at none other than the WIV.

When he first stumbled upon the HIV inserts, Luc Montagnier could not have known all this. All he had to go on was the molecular data. But it is true.

The very title of the publicly-funded “transregional” collaborative research centre (TRR60) which gave rise to the joint German-Chinese lab is “Mutual interaction of chronic viruses with cells of the immune system: from fundamental research to immunotherapy and vaccination.”

The chronic viruses for which a vaccine was being sought were hepatitis-C and HIV. A mission statement is available in English here. The centrality of developing a “safe and effective” HIV vaccine is clear. Yes, the now infamous “safe and effective” formula is in the mission statement (as can be seen below).

As can be seen in the description below, sub-project B6 of TRR60, under the direction of Professors Rongge Yang and Binlian Sun of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was dedicated to studying “genetically engineered HIV gp120 V1/V2 glycosylation variants” for the purpose of facilitating “HIV vaccine development.”

Well, this is very interesting, since three of the four inserts identified by Pradhan et al. correspond precisely to “to short segments of amino acid residues in HIV-1 gp120”: i.e., the HIV envelope protein “glycoprotein 120”. More specifically, the residues “were a part of the V4, V5 and V1 domains respectively” (emphasis added).

As “Seven of Nine MD” noted when this passage in Pradhan et al. was brought to her attention on X, “This does not look good for Rongge Yang and Ulf Dittmer.” (As touched upon here, the pseudonymous “Seven of Nine MD” X-account has taken up many of the topics of the German physician and virologist Johanna Deinert: a long-time proponent of the “lab-leak” hypothesis who was exiled from Twitter under the old regime and whose @DeinertDoc account has never been restored under the new.)

Professor Ulf Dittmer of University Hospital Essen was the coordinator of the “transregional” research centre, and he is the Co-Director of the German-Chinese lab at Union Hospital in Wuhan. (I have discussed his links to Christian Drosten here.) 

Dittmer is in fact himself the co-author with no fewer than five members of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, including Rongge Yang and Binlian Sun, of a 2016 paper on none other than the V1 region of the HIV envelope protein gp120.

The paper identifies the region as being “indispensable for…virus infection,” and the authors argue that their joint research “may facilitate the development of novel HIV vaccines.”

Dittmer can be seen with Rongge Yang below in a photo taken at University Hospital Essen in 2015. Another of the distinguished guests from China (scroll down) is none other than George F. Gao, who would soon become the director of the Chinese CDC.

a) Ulf Dittmer b) George F. Gao c) Rongge Yang

There has, of course, been much excitement about an alleged ‘smoking gun’ in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which is supposed to prove the lab origins of SARS-CoV-2. Never mind that Chapel Hill is some 7,000 miles or so from Wuhan. But this ‘smoking gun’ – one with German, not American, fingerprints on it – is right in Wuhan. There is no need for the virus to have somehow got to the city in China prior to escape. The HIV work was being done right at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, with its famous repository of coronaviruses.

Republished from The Daily Sceptic

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