A disgraced scientist at the center of Covid lab leak cover-up claims has promoted the idea the virus may have jumped to humans from hedgehogs.
Dr Peter Daszak’s ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology were thrust into the spotlight again this week after a new US Energy Department report concluded the lab as the most likely source of the pandemic.
In an apparent attempt to deflect criticism, Dr Daszak tweeted a study by Russian scientists which warns bat coronaviruses can infect hedgehogs and create entirely new strains.
The research does not explicitly say Covid resulted from one of these ‘recombinant’ events, but it is implied.
Dr Daszak funded bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan laboratory using US Government grants years before the pandemic and was then accused of bullying colleagues into directing blame away from the facility when Covid started to spread.
Dr Peter Daszak (pictured left alongside Dr Anthony Fauci) tweeted out a study pointing to hedgehogs as a potential vector between bats and humans in the spread of coronaviruses
Dr Peter Daszak (left) has been accused of bullying other scientists into writing off the lab leak theory despite emerging evidence. Pictured: Dr Daszak speaks to police when approached by a DailyMail,com reporter at his home in Suffern, New York
It comes as an apparent attempt to deflect criticism. Dr Daszak funded bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan laboratory using US Government grants years before the pandemic and then bullied colleagues into directing blame away from the facility when Covid started to spread
The grants were funneled to the Chinese lab through the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York City-based group that funds global research into viruses. Dr Daszak is president of the non-profit.
The latest hedgehog study was a collaboration between Ecohealth and a team of Russian researchers – and Dr Daszak is a co-author of the paper.
It showed for the first time that a common bat species in Europe are natural reservoirs for a strain related to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012
The researchers named the strain MOW-BatCoV/15-22.
When researching the virus’s spike protein, the team found signs that the virus has previously infected hedgehogs.
This suggests that the spiky mammals could serve as an intermediate virus host for coronaviruses like MERS – which infected people through camels as an intermediate.
But there are several apparent attempts by researchers to link the findings to Covid.
‘The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic… is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is most likely zoonotic,’ the paper reads.
‘Which animal was the source of SARS-CoV-2 is not known… the intermediate hosts for SARS-CoV-2 are not precisely understood yet.’
Later the researchers write: ‘Hedgehogs are widely kept as pets and are commonly found in areas of human habitation.
‘…we suggest hedgehogs can act as intermediate hosts between bats and humans for other bat-CoVs.’
Dr Daszak, from Manchester, England, said the paper shows the animals that ‘live close to people and now widely kept as pets’ could be responsible for zoonotic virus transmission.
In an accompanying tweet, Dr Daszack, who has been criticized in the past for cozying up to China, also alluded to the Ukraine war.
He said: ‘I also want to send warm greetings to scientist colleagues in Russia on this paper & beyond.
‘It’s another reminder that we shouldn’t let geopolitical issues get in the way of scientific collaboration that is for the common good.’
Dr Daszak – who claims he is ‘British, American and Ukrainian’ in his Twitter biography – often shares studies and stories to social media promoting the natural spillover theory.
Hedgehogs often interact with humans, as they are kept as pets and live in wild areas humans are encroaching into. A Russian study found the spiky creatures could serve as vectors for MERS, which struck in the Middle East just over a decade ago (file photo)
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where crucial data was wiped by Chinese scientists
On Tuesday morning, he shared tweets critical of the media for covering the US Department of Energy report.
‘Normally that would not be headline news!’ he wrote.
Dr Steven Salzberg, a leading expert in the hunt for the pandemic’s origin and biomedical expert at Johns Hopkins University, said the hedgehog study was an unsurprising scientific result published in an ‘obscure’ journal.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘I don’t know what Daszak is claiming, but he’s built his whole enterprise based on doing [gain-of-function] work in viruses and getting US gov’t funding to support it.
Dr Daszak, and the non-profit he overseas, have been at the center of the Covid lab leak theory.
The zoologist was among 27 scientists that signed a letter published in The Lancet in March, decrying discussion about the pandemic’s origin.
‘We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,’ they wrote.
The infamous letter wrote off lab leak theories as a ‘conspiracy theory’, and is believed to have spurred many other experts away from believing the theory.
Jamie Metzl, who sits on the World Health Organization’s advisory committee on human genome editing and is a form Bill Clinton administration staffer, said Dr Daszak’s letter was a ‘form of thuggery’.
He said: ‘The Lancet letter was scientific propaganda and a form of thuggery and intimidation.
‘By labelling anyone with different views a conspiracy theorist, the Lancet letter was the worst form of bullying in full contravention of the scientific method.’
It was later revealed that Dr Daszak had signed the letter without making his conflict of interest, that he had helped fund research at the center of the pandemic, clear.
These ties also had EcoHealth’s president, once recognized as a leading virologist, removed from the United Nations commission investigating the virus’s origins in June of 2021.
The OIG report cites three specific awards from EcoHealth, using NIH funds, that had the potential to be gain-of-function research but did not go through proper clearances. Included is the award to the WIV, which has been at the center of the lab leak theory
Late last year, Dr Daszak posted a video of himself to Twitter in a Thai bat cave, standing in the midst of a bat colony.
While these type of expeditions are normal for virologists, some saw the post as it poor taste considering his organization’s potential links to Covid’s origin.
EcoHealth awarded $3.7m to the Wuhan Institute of Virology [WIV] to study the emergence of bat coronaviruses in the region.
The WIV is one of Asia’s leading virology research centers. Interest in coronaviruses in particular emerged after the devastating SARS outbreak struck the nation in the early 2000s.
A report by the US Office of Inspector General in January found that the National Institutes of Health – which awarded these funds to EcoHealth – did not properly monitor how they were used.
One particular worry is that the WIV could have been performing ‘gain-of-function’ research without receiving proper approval.
The highly controversial and potentially dangerous research is heavily regulated in the US, only allowed to be performed in labs with top security protocols in place.
The WIV had previously suffered issues with following proper protocols when doing this type of research.
A US Senate report in October pointed out multiple instances of biosafety and biosecurity failures in the lab preceding the pandemic.
The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. New studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbor Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)
While the lab leak theory was initially dismissed as conspiracy and xenophobic, many scientists have come around to the idea that the virus may have escaped during an accident at the WIV.
The research facility is less than 10 miles from an animal slaughter market where the first human case series was clustered.
Some experts also claim that Covid’s unique spike protein, which it uses to infect people, shows hallmarks of human engineering.
But others have deemed those scenarios unlikely and say that there is some indirect evidence that Covid did jump from animals at the Huanan Seafood Market, where animals known to harbor Covid including raccoon dogs, hedgehogs, rats and squirrels, were kept in squalid conditions.
Direct and conclusive evidence for a natural or man-made origin has yet to emerge, but the lack of proof has allowed the fierce debate to proliferate.
After the eruption of the pandemic, Chinese officials were found to have wiped crucial databases from the lab and stifled independent investigations into the facility when questions started to be asked about its involvement.
Researchers who fell ill with a mysterious flu-like virus months before the official Covid timeline were silenced or disappeared.
One of its chief scientists was nicknamed the ‘Bat Lady’ for her extensive work on coronaviruses like Covid.
This is not the first time Dr Daszak has attempted to write off the lab leak.
In October, he co-authored a report published in PNAS denying any evidence the virus emerged from a lab.
‘The Task Force finds no verifiable or credible evidence to support the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 was created in or released from a laboratory,’ it said.