US researchers 'create' Covid strain with 80 per cent kill rate; spark debate over need for taking such a risk
Compared to the Omicron variant, the new strain has five times more infectious virus particles. The creation of the hybrid virus has triggered a sharp debate, with one section casting aspersions about the dangerous and high-risk research work being undertaken.
Boston University researchers were the target of criticism after reports emerged that they developed a new COVID strain that has an 80 per cent kill rate. To recall, a series of similar experiments in China triggered a global pandemic.
The team from Boston and Florida, whose findings are yet to be peer-reviewed, extracted Omicron's spike protein that takes over human cells and attached it to the original wildtype strain that first emerged in Wuhan, China. The new variant killed 80 per cent of the mice that were infected by it. When exposed only to the Omicron strain, the mice exhibited mild symptoms.
Compared to the Omicron variant, the new strain has five times more infectious virus particles.
The creation of the hybrid virus has triggered a sharp debate, with one section casting aspersions about the dangerous and high-risk research work being undertaken. At the same time, there are those who see the research as necessary to be prepared for future threats. That includes the Boston University researchers at the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL).
The NEIDL is one of two National Biocontainment Laboratories in the United States constructed under a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A look at the NEIDL mission statement reveals that it is mandated to 'generate' and 'translate' fundamental knowledge on high-priority emerging infectious diseases for the benefit of public health, locally, nationally and globally.
However, at least one US lawmaker -- Kansas Republican Senator Roger Marshall -- questioned the purpose of such research. In a statement, Marshall termed it as unconscionable that the National Institutes of Health sponsored this lethal gain of function virus research in densely-populated areas through Boston University and EcoHealth Alliance.
Stating that the researchers created the potential to kill more people than any singular nuclear weapon, the Senator said that the research must stop immediately while the benefits and risks can be investigated.
'History has taught us that viruses have managed to escape even the most secure labs. This is not a risk that scientists alone should be able to take without concurrence from the American public,' he said.