Unverifiable: Dr. Anthony Fauci knew about the Gain-of-Function research in Wuhan.

By: Devika Kandelwal
January 4 2022

Share Article: facebook logo twitter logo linkedin logo
Unverifiable: Dr. Anthony Fauci knew about the Gain-of-Function research in Wuhan.


The Verdict Unverifiable

It is unknown whether Fauci knew of the direct research in Wuhan. There is an ongoing debate whether the research qualifies as gain-of-function.

Claim ID e2e07131

It is unknown whether Fauci knew of the direct research in Wuhan. There is an ongoing debate whether the research qualifies as gain-of-function. English comedian Russell Brand posted a video on his official Facebook page on September 18, claiming that "new evidence has emerged that suggests Dr. Fauci may have lied to Congress about his involvement in Gain of Function research in Wuhan." Brand's video has garnered over 475k views in the last 24 hours and revolves primarily around the origin of COVID-19 and U.S.'s involvement in that. Confusion over this issue has been ongoing since May 2021. The implication is not only that the pandemic virus, SARS-CoV-2, was created artificially in a lab, but that the U.S. funded its creation. The primary evidence used to claim U.S.'s involvement in the origin of the coronavirus comes from documents from the National Institute of Health (NIH) published by The Intercept on Sept 10. In 2014, the NIH awarded a five-year grant to the U.S.-based EcoHealth Alliance “to study the risk of the future emergence of coronaviruses from bats." After being renewed again in 2019, the grant was canceled in March 2020. Between 2014 and 2019, EcoHealth received $3.7 million from the NIH and distributed nearly $600,000 of that total to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, a collaborator on the project, pre-approved by NIH. The Intercept reported that the documents they had published "contain new evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the nearby Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, along with their collaborator, the U.S.-based nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, have engaged in what the U.S. government defines as “gain-of-function research of concern.” According to a paper titled ‘Potential Risks and Benefits of Gain-of-Function Research: Summary of a Workshop,’ Gain-of-function is a term that could describe "any type of virology research that results in the gain of a certain function. But the type that’s controversial, including among scientists, is research that causes a pathogen to be more infectious, particularly to humans." In other words, "Gain-of-function is when an organism develops new abilities (or "functions)." Gain-of-function research­—which can make a disease more lethal or infectious—had been shut down by a U.S. moratorium that lasted from 2014 to 2017. There has been an ongoing debate whether the research in Wuhan was "gain-of-function" or not. On May 11, 2021, Kentucky senator Rand Paul said that “government authorities, self-interested in continuing gain-of-function research, say there’s nothing to see here.” He said there is a tie between U.S. researchers and the Wuhan Institute of Virology and accused them of “juicing up super-viruses,” asking Fauci if he still supported “the NIH funding of the lab in Wuhan.” Fauci responded that “the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” Dr. Fauci told the Senate hearing the research in question "has been evaluated multiple times by qualified people to not fall under the gain-of-function definition." Dr. Fauci also said it was "molecularly impossible" for these viruses to have resulted in the coronavirus. The NIH and EcoHealth Alliance have also rejected suggestions they supported or funded "gain-of-function" research in China. They say they funded a project to examine "at the molecular level" newly-discovered bat viruses and their spike proteins (which help the virus bind to living cells) "without affecting the environment or development or physiological state of the organism." One of the U.S. scientists who collaborated on the 2015 research on bat viruses with the Wuhan institute, Dr. Ralph Baric from the University of North Carolina, told the Washington Post that "the work was reviewed by both the NIH and the university's own biosafety committee "for potential of gain-of-function research and were deemed not to be gain-of-function". He added that "none of the viruses which were the subject of the 2015 study are related to Sars-Cov-2, which caused the pandemic in 2020." However, the BBC noted that U.S. researcher and biologist Alina Chan at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard had highlighted issues with the wording of the government's pause to funding in 2014. It says that it would stop funding research that "may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route." This could imply that research on viruses may not intend to produce "gain-of-function." However, that could be the end result of it. Rebecca Moritz of Colorado State University told the BBC, "There is not always consensus [on gain-of-function research] even amongst experts, and institutions interpret and apply policy differently." While the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is still unknown, it’s safe to clarify that the scientific community has ruled out the possibility of it being manufactured. According to an article in Nature Medicine on March 17, 2020, titled ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,’ they wrote that the virus “is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” While they said an accidental laboratory release of a naturally occurring virus couldn’t be ruled out, they said they “do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.” Scientists unanimously told The Intercept that "the [2015] experiment, which involved infecting genetically engineered mice with “chimeric” hybrid viruses, could not have directly sparked the pandemic. None of the viruses listed in the write-ups of the experiment are related to the virus that causes Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, closely enough to have evolved into it." The NIH documents in The Intercept "do not establish whether Fauci was directly aware of the work." Moreover, the terms of the NIH grant of 2014 specified that the funding could not be used for gain-of-function experiments. The grant conditions also required the researchers to immediately report potentially dangerous results and stop their experiments pending further NIH review. According to both the EcoHealth Alliance and NIH, "the agency reported the results, but NIH determined that rules designed to restrict gain-of-function research did not apply." To conclude, there have been disagreements over whether the research in Wuhan qualifies as gain-of-function research. However, the claim that Dr. Fauci knew research could have led to the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is unfounded. The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.

Would you like to submit a claim to fact-check or contact our editorial team?

Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before