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“?? Serial passage in ACE2-transgenic mice”
Another Elephant in the Room: Dr. Fauci's February 4, 2020 e-mail about SARS-CoV-2
By JOHN LEAKE
As I have written in previous posts, between January 31—February 4, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci exchanged several e-mails with a group of eminent virologists and infectious disease specialists including Jeremy Farrar, Kristian Andersen, Michael Farzan, and Robert Garry in which they discussed the recently published SARS-CoV-2 genome.
As they stated in their initial remarks, all of them thought the genome displayed signs of having been manipulated in a lab. Especially notable was the spike protein’s furin cleavage site—a feature that enables it to use furin, a common enzyme in human lung cells, to aid in binding to the cells to initiate infection and replication. As the virologists recognized, this feature of SARS-CoV-2 is NOT found in SARS‐CoV or other lineage B coronaviruses.
As Andersen memorably put it in his January 31, 2020 e-mail to Fauci and Farrar:
Eddie, Bob, Mike [Edward Holmes, Robert Garry, Michael Farzan] and myself all find the genome [of SARS-CoV-2] inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.
For reasons that still aren’t clear, Andersen, Holmes, and Garry all felt compelled—at this exact same time—to write a letter to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and a paper for Nature Medicine in which they stated that the genome IS consistent with expectations from evolutionary theory. On February 4, they circulated a draft copy of their Nature Medicine paper (The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2) to Dr. Fauci and colleagues, seeking their comments.
After these confidential emails were released pursuant to a FOIA request, a controversy erupted on the question of WHY, in their public assurances, these eminent virologists stated the exact opposite of what they’d just stated in private communications with Anthony Fauci and Jeremy Farrar.
They claimed that, in a very short period of time, they acquired new information that prompted them to change their perception of the novel virus, but to date, none of them have offered a persuasive account of what precisely caused them to change their minds.
As the controversy became heated, the discussion centered on the precise meaning of the word engineered—a word that Andersen himself used in his January 31, 2020 email to Fauci:
The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome [0.1%] so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially look engineered).
Later, Andersen and his colleagues emphasized that in a virology context, “engineering” refers to the process inserting and deleting nucleotides in the virus’s genetic code. This, it seems, is the kind of work that someone in a BSL lab in a country with military ambitions might be tempted to do in order to create a bioweapon.
Andersen et al. insisted that SARS-CoV-2 did NOT display signs of this kind of engineering, and because President Trump vocalized the idea that SARS-CoV-2 was a bioweapon, half the country (in its weirdly programmed way) automatically and categorically rejected this proposition.
However, hiding in plain sight was Dr. Fauci’s February 4, 2020 email, which he wrote upon seeing the early draft of the proximal origin paper. His composed his commentary in the form of a pithy question:
?? Serial passage in ACE2-transgenic mice
Like the salient fact that (of all places) SARS-CoV-2 broke out in the city of Wuhan near the Wuhan Institute of Virology—where gain of function work was being performed on SARS coronaviruses—Serial Passage is yet another Elephant in the Room that these eminences assiduously ignored in their proximal origin paper.
As Wikipedia defines it:
Serial passage is the process of growing bacteria or a virus in iterations. For instance, a virus may be grown in one environment, and then a portion of that virus population can be removed and put into a new environment. This process is repeated with as many stages as desired, and then the final product is studied, often in comparison with the original virus.
This sort of facilitated transmission is often conducted in a laboratory setting, because it is of scientific interest to observe how the virus or bacterium that is being passed evolves over the course of the experiment. In particular, serial passage can be quite useful in studies that seek to alter the virulence of a virus or other pathogen. One consequence of this is that serial passage can be useful in creating vaccines, since scientists can apply serial passage and create a strain of a pathogen that has low virulence, yet has comparable immunogenicity to the original strain. This can also create strains that are more transmissible in addition to lower virulence, as demonstrated by A/H5N1 passage in ferrets
Regarding SARS coronaviruses, Wikipedia states:
Another study by Kanta Subbaro involved a serial passage experiment in which mice were infected with SARS. SARS usually does not make mice particularly sick, however, after the virus had undergone serial passage in the mice, it had become lethal.
At an April 4-6, 2018 symposium, at UNC Chapel Hill, Professor Ralph Baric explicitly talked about performing this process with SARS Coronaviruses on ACE-2 Transgenic Mice in a lecture he gave titled Imagining the Next Flu Pandemic – and Preventing it!. To view this specific segment of his talk, advance the timer to 10:18. Also interesting is his discussion, starting at about 18:00, on how serial passage can result in a SARS coronavirus that is far more lethal to old mice than it is the young.
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