US Lab Condemned for 'Playing with Fire' after Creating COVID Strain with 80% Kill Rate

US Lab Condemned for 'Playing with Fire' after Creating COVID Strain with 80% Kill Rate

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Boston University scientists were condemned for 'playing with fire' after it emerged they had created a lethal new COVID strain in a laboratory.

The team had made a hybrid virus — combining Omicron and the original Wuhan strain — that killed 80 percent of mice in a study, the Daily Mail revealed

The revelation exposes how dangerous virus manipulation research continues to go on even in the US, despite fears similar practices may have started the pandemic.

Gain of function research - when viruses are purposefully manipulated to be more infectious or deadly - is thought to be at the center of COVID's origin.

A Chinese laboratory located just miles from the first cluster of cases carried out similar research on bat coronaviruses.

But the practice has been largely restricted in the US since 2017.

Dr Richard Ebright, a chemist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, told the Daily Mail that the research is a clear example of gain of function research.

He added: "If we are to avoid a next lab-generated pandemic, it is imperative that oversight of enhanced potential pandemic pathogen research be strengthened."

In the new research, which has not been peer-reviewed, a team of researchers from Boston and Florida extracted Omicron's spike protein — the unique structure that binds to and invades human cells.

It has always been present in the virus but has become more evolved over time. Omicron has dozens of mutations on its spike protein that made it so infectious.

Researchers attached Omicron's spike to the original wildtype strain that first emerged in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic.

The researchers looked at how mice fared against the new hybrid strain compared to the original Omicron variant.

When a similar group of rodents were exposed to the standard Omicron strain, however, they all survived and only experienced 'mild' symptoms.

Writing in the paper, they said: "In...mice, while Omicron causes mild, non-fatal infection, the Omicron S-carrying virus inflicts severe disease with a mortality rate of 80 percent."

The researchers said it signaled that while the spike protein is responsible for infectivity, changes to other parts of its structure determine its deadliness.

Prof David Livermore, a professor of microbiology at the UK's University of East Anglia said: "Given the strong likelihood that the COVID pandemic originated from the escape of a lab-manipulated coronavirus..., these experiments seem profoundly unwise."

Some believe that the pathogen being developed in the lab infected employees, and escaped into the world as a result.

The Boston scientists were performing similar research, and looked at different strains' effect on human lung cells that were grown in the lab.

COVID latches onto human cells with its spike protein, and instructs healthy cells to produce copies of itself.

Scientists measured how many copies each variant caused the health cells to produce.

They found the hybrid strain produced five times more viral particles than the original Omicron.

The scientists admit the hybrid virus is unlikely to be as deadly in humans as it was in mice.

This is because the specific breed of lab mice used are very susceptible to severe COVID disease. Mice and humans also have very different immune responses to the virus.

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