Top Republican lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week sent a letter to Boston University President Robert Brown requesting information about newly published research showing scientists created a new strain of COVID-19.
Researchers from the university’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) set out to compare the omicron variant to the original strain of COVID-19.
They created a hybrid by fusing the spike protein from the omicron variant to the original strain, then infected mice with the omicron variant, the original strain, and the new hybrid version.
None of the mice were killed by the omicron variant, but 80% died from the new hybrid strain and all mice died from the original virus.
“In K18-hACE2 mice, while Omicron causes mild, non-fatal infection, the virus carrying Omicron S inflicts severe disease with an 80% mortality rate,” the researchers wrote in the study, which has not been peer reviewed.
The research was immediately criticized, but the university defended the study.
“This research is not gain-of-function research, which means it did not amplify the Washington State SARS-COV-2 virus strain or make it more dangerous. In fact, this research has made the virus less dangerous to replicate,” the university said in a statement last week.
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Not everyone was convinced that the research was risk-free. Steven Salzberg, professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, argued that the study is considered gain-of-function research.
“Scientists took sequences from two different strains of the Covid-19 virus, one of which was relatively mild, and created a new strain that is much more infectious and much more deadly,” Salzberg wrote in Forbes. “As many scientists (and others) have pointed out, research like this carries great risks, foremost among which is the possibility that an accidental lab leak could create a new pandemic, killing millions of people. people.”
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House Republicans are now asking Boston University for all proposals and progress reports related to the study, each of the National Institutes of Health grants referenced in the study, a list of all streams of funding for the study and a copy of the university’s safety protocols. They also question whether the research should be approved by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Boston University did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
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