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BU biolab researchers on Albany Street create Frankencovid in bid to see why omicron might be causing less severe cases

Stat reports that researchers at BU's National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories on Albany Street- designed to study killer microorganisms - grafted the spike of an omicron variant of the virus onto one of the OG strains from Wuhan to see whether something on the spike was changing the virus's virulence.

Apparently, while the new spike makes omicron better able to get through people's immune systems, it did not make the "chimeric" version more virulent - sure, it killed 80% of the mice it was injected into, but the original virus killed 100%.

So no, BU didn't create an even deadlier Covid-19 virus. BU adds the work was approved by both an internal BU safety committee and the Boston Public Health Commission. Still, Stat adds federal research honchos are a bit miffed that they didn't know what BU researchers using their money were up to -they say they first learned about the work from media reports.

Role of spike in the pathogenic and antigenic behavior of SARS-CoV-2 BA.1 Omicron - the complete, if un-peer-reviewed - study.

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Comments

Is this stuff really only regulated at the city level? I assumed the Feds would be reviewing this in advance to keep us safe.

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haven't we discussed here that there are more dangerous things in Boston labs than this covid stuff? (Ebola, black plague, anthrax, etc)

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Yes, there are. I would hope that stuff is regulated by the Feds as well.

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Every research institution is regulated by research oversight boards which in turn have to follow various federal ethical and legal guidelines. Since this is a study in mice it would fall under an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee as opposed to an Institutional Review Board. The IACUC and IRB review all research that is occurring at an institution for things like safety, ethics, risk to human participants, risk to human investigators, risk to animal subjects, animal welfare, credentials of the lab staff, whether the project will actually learn anything scientifically, whether the possible outcomes are worth the suffering of the animal subjects ethically, how exactly samples are handled, stored, discarded, etc.

This adds extra protection because 1) the oversight board also serves to protect the institution. If they approve something sloppy and a new COVID strain entered the wild as result, there's an immediate liability there and it's very easy to identify that it was negligent to let the study happen, because all the records rules involving research. 2) These boards are made up of other researchers - it's a big boost professionally to serve and if your board was the one that released COVID Strain-X you've seriously, seriously fucked yourself as a single professional. 3) If you're the kind of scientist who's profit driven and sloppy and unethical, it's much much easier to go work for a private org than a university in terms of the oversight you're held to. BU doing this is different than, say, one of the dozens of fly-by-night bioscience start ups.

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I'm absolutely sure this story will be handled appropriately by the press and not at all warped to fit an extreme political and religious agenda.

Children's Hospital, Martha's Vineyard, and now I imagine this will trigger some vague stochastic terror egged on by out-of-state Twitter "Patriots" and their deranged Right Wing Media bubble.

I fully expect the midterms to be chock full of voter intimidation, bomb scares, and mob violence from sea to shining sea.

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Voting closed 15

of the sort that could contribute to a dangerous lab leak. But... recombination of multiple strains of SARS-CoV-2 *in people* is already a thing, and more likely to cause a new and exciting strain than this work is.

Things that actually worry me:

- Hunting down new animal viruses to experiment with (one of several plausible explanations for the origin of SARS-CoV-2 -- not a lab leak per se, but a researcher who got infected in a bat cave while gathering samples...)
- Direct editing of viruses to try to make them "worse" in various ways
- Serial passage of viruses in new host species

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Voting closed 37

Adding to your list of concerns, it's unfortunate more information is not available from the authors re: how they addressed the myriad of ethical issues this study raises, why NIH external review seems to not have been completed, etc.

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I think you may have misunderstood my comment.

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In front of Congress it scares the crap out of me.
But to be fair so do the people asking the questions.

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against the building of this lab.

I thought they were fearful NIMBYs

But they were right

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The NIMBY hand-wringing against it was making claims that something like smallpox was going to escape and wipe out an overwhelming majority of the city's population starting in the neighborhoods around the lab.

Can you explain how adding one modified virus to the existing work at the lab proves the alarmists right?

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a conclusion in search of a predicate

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The issue I have is that the Feds were not involved in this at all from an oversite point of view. I am not knocking the Boston Board of Health but come on!

They took a virus and started giving it pieces to test it. Just because the testing showed it got less dangerous does not mean everything is fine. What if it became more dangerous? "Well Jimmy and me set off the bottle rocket , but the fuse was too short and it did not go off in the living room so its ok."

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The original virus killed 100% of test subject mice. You can't get worse than 100%.

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If it is just as deadly and more transmissible then you would accurately say that it is worse.

(I'm not alarmed about the work, just pointing out the logical fallacy in your statement)

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Like you, I'm still not concerned, due to the protective measures taken at that facility, but definitely good to be more accurate.

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But how many of the test subject mice were wearing masks?

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It's very helpful when dealing with fear ... And also asking questions that see through PR and politics.

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When they started in about putting all that stuff down on Albany Street, I said to anyone that would listen that it was a bad idea, and if they insist on having such a lab, it should be out in the boonies, miles from anywhere.

All it's going to take is one idiot who unwittingly gets something on his lab coat who decides (since it's a nice day) to stroll through the South End and walk over to Chinatown to visit a friend who's an inpatient at Tufts, then hailing a cab to go pick up his suitcases at his apartment in the North End, and on to Logan to embark on his long-awaited trip around the world.

Extreme scenario but the scary part is all it will actually take is one dropped tube.

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you actually been to the site, though?

The building is in the middle of a vast, vast empty lot, and there are high security fences all around. No one is going on a casual stroll to the Hidden Kitchen whilst covered in pathogens.

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https://www.cbsnews.com/news/25-years-ago-in-virginia-a-very-different-e...

Every now and then there's a smartass in any system who thinks the safety rules are too conservative, or don't apply to them. Trust but verify is more than a cliche. In some situations no one is above reproach. For instance, handling or possessing classified documents.

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I do believe a paper trail was dropped here and that needs to be addressed but someone just strolling out of the place wearing their lab jacket is just not happening. I could see a concern with researchers themselves getting infected unknowingly somehow because weird stuff can happen but even if the lab was out in the boonies of Maine, if that person lives in a populated area it will spread.

A greater concern for medical transfer of germs are these medical people who wear scrubs into and out of work. I thought the entire point of scrubs was to have clean surfaces , if you wear your scrubs when you run across the street to the hot dog hut and then walk back into the hospital you are dragging stuff out of the building and into it.

These biolabs though, they have all sorts of extra protections. I am more concerned than most of the posters here but my concern is not that some researcher is going to walk out the door with a petri dish stuck to their shoe.

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but not reasonable to be misinformed. If you read up on how the lab functions, you'll find that the scenario you suggest is impossible. The pathogens are entirely managed through a sealed box format. The researchers themselves are never directly exposed, and if a test tube or some other device broke, the pathogen would still be contained by the sealed box.

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Please only comment on subjects you are better informed on. This random movie plot you've envisioned cannot happen. The "idiots" you envision are in the comment section of Uhub, not working at a lab where they've already designed around this situation and prevented it before the lab was even built. Stop projecting your irrational fears onto the world, there's enough to be afraid of, but this isn't it

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Too many movies RELATIVE to what?

Scientific journal articles?

Those are harder to pay for and to comprehend.

Now... say you are up to date with current research... how many movies would be to many? Err...

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Meanwhile we've spent the last couple of years wearing masks and some of us have watched old friends die from a virus that might have come from a lab, might have come from the batcave, might have come from the wet market. How did it get out? Where did it come from? Supposedly no one knows.

I understand security methods are in place, and are quite stringent. I don't think my fears are "irrational". I think they're practical. But I'm not cowering in a corner with a blanket over my head either. Life goes on, for the time being anyway.

Just pointing out that shit happens.

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The science has been pointing to it being a virus of natural origin since 2020. Further research has only solidified the evidence of that as an origin.

In fact, it is understood with enough certainty at this point that your "Where did it come from?" question is only asked out of ignorance or for political purposes.

https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2022/origins-of-sars-cov-2

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What I find fascinating is when we use Google and search for Wuhan Coronavirus testing/lab and set the parameters to prior to 2019 we get interesting articles about the lab being relatively new. About the SARS virus slipping out of Chinese labs previously. About other scientists being concerned about the lab. The story below was from Nature, not a fly by night operation.

I also saw articles about Canadian researchers getting in trouble for their collaboration with the Wuhan lab and other interesting facts.

China has a strong incentive to destroy the concept it might be lab connected because they are building more labs and might be concerned they would be shut out of the comeptition if it came out the lab was the source of an outbreak.

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2017.21487

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Natural origin is looking more likely with the multiple-strains-at-wet-market evidence. But the lab was also doing some skeezy stuff and I don't think it's crazy to keep investigating that line of inquiry as well. (Plus, there have been lab leaks before, and there will be more in the future, so it's worth shining more light on dangerous research *even if* SARS-CoV-2 had natural origins and came in via poaching or whatever.)

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There has been a lot of evidence up to this point that the seafood market [in Wuhan] was the epicenter of SARS-CoV-2, but these recent reports are the death knell for any alternative theories.

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doesn't really demonstrate anything, and certainly doesn't answer the kinds of questions that Jeffery Sachs, former Chair of Lancet's COVID Commission, has been asking. These are by no means questions that have been definitively settled.

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The link referenced and had a link to the study below which is what, in a peer reviewed scientific paper, it called the "death knell" of the pure speculation of Mr Sachs.

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abp8715

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you'll know that one paper is not a "death knell" for anything, especially in science. Nor does it answer questions about conflicts of interest in those who dismissed the lab hypothesis from the very beginning and did everything they could to block in-depth investigation.

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For god's sake, the evidence has been stacking up since 2020 pointing towards it being a virus of natural origin that jumped from animals to people. This paper demonstrates that there is a lot of evidence linking it to the wet market and almost none to the lab.

If you still think it might have come from the lab, especially through some nefarious act, then you're almost hopelessly clutching at straws.

Let's say you were watching the Patriots-Browns game on Sunday and when it was 38-15 with a little over two minutes left when Brisset made a complete pass near midfield said, "There's a chance the Browns could win this thing!"

Is it in the realm of possibility? Sure.

Do you sound like a fool pushing that opinion at that point in time? Absolutely.

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to enjoy arguing against straw men. No one is "pushing" an opinion about the lab hypothesis; the market may very well have been the source of the outbreak, and COVID's origins may very well be natural. The point is that the lab hypothesis was never investigated by an independent scientific investigation, and thorough investigations have been blocked at every turn by those with a clear conflict of interest. That is anything but good science.

At least read the articles in good faith.

SACHS:
We know that at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the scientists there had been trained by American scientists to use advanced bioengineering methodologies. And in particular, we have scientists in North Carolina, Texas, and so forth who do this kind of research, believe in it, argue for it, and say that they don’t want any regulations on it and so on. And they were in close contact with Wuhan Institute of Virology, and they were part of a joint research group that was stitched together by something called EcoHealth Alliance. And EcoHealth Alliance was the kind of marriage maker between the American scientists and the Chinese scientists. That was the vehicle for funding from the U.S. government, especially from the National Institutes of Health, and especially from Tony Fauci’s unit, the NIAID. There were years of grants, there were grant proposals. We don’t know exactly what was done. But we have enough reason to know that we should be asking exactly what was done. And we know definitively that from the beginning, NIH has been running from telling us what has been done. They’re not telling us the truth, that they had reason to fear from the start that this came out of a lab. And that to this day, they have reason to suspect it, but they’re not talking.

ROBINSON:
A shocking thing to me was that the head of the EcoHealth Alliance was on the World Health Organization team that actually investigated the origins of COVID and concluded that it wasn’t the lab.

SACHS:
Well, more than that: I appointed him—this was Peter Daszak—I appointed him to chair the task force of the pandemic commission that I was running for the Lancet. And he headed a task force on the origins. I thought, naively at the beginning, “Well, here’s a guy who is so connected, he would know.” And then I realized he was not telling me the truth. And it took me some months, but the more I saw it, the more I resented it.

And so I told him, “Look, you have to leave.” And then the other scientists in that task force attacked me for being anti-scientific. And I asked them: “What are your connections with all of this?” They didn’t tell me. Then when the Freedom of Information Act released some of these documents that NIH had been hiding from the public, I saw that people that were attacking me were also part of this thing. So I disbanded that whole task force. So my own experience was to witness close up how they’re not talking. And they’re trying to keep our eyes on something else. And away from even asking the questions that we’re talking about. We don’t have the answers. But we have good reasons to ask. And we have good reasons to know that NIH is not doing its job properly right now.

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If that's your rebuttal to the latest in a long line of peer reviewed papers which all point to the conclusion that it came from the wet market then I'm done here.

You don't want to know, you want to believe.

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for some QAnon type, which I am far from (and I would encourage you to look into the reporting of the Intercept and the work of Nathan Robinson--whose hero is Chomsky--if you're not familiar with the Intercept or Current Affairs). I'm not "rebutting" anything except the idea that science has already settled the origins of COVID precisely because an independent scientific investigation into the lab hypothesis has not only not been performed but has been repeatedly blocked by those who had and have clear conflicts of interest. There are still questions to be answered--real questions, not conspiracy theories--and it's not as cut-and-dried as you appear to want it to be.

But yeah, adios.

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Hi there! I actually do personally work in this high containment facility, specifically in the highest containment level, and if you're interested in learning about what safety measures we have in place to prevent exactly the sort of problem you're thinking of, I'd love to suggest some resources with verified information that can help alleviate these sorts of concerns. I agree that the scenario you're imagining sounds horrific, and we think so too, which is why we have a lot - and I mean a whole fucking lot - of layers of physical containment, protective equipment, overlapping policies, and regulation in place very specifically to ensure that cannot happen. And we've got a lot of information available online so that the safety measures don't have to be a mystery; these are just a few of them:

First off, we've got a cool video episode feature in a podcast called TWiV (this week in virology) that details the layers of containment we use to prevent any accidental release of the pathogens we handle. This actually shows what the inside of our containment facilities look like, as well as the type of personal protective equipment we wear to handle them (no spoilers, but it's a lot more than just a lab coat - more like a space suit that gets car-wash-style hosed down with powerful disinfectant after every single lab entry).

Another place you can find information on our safety and security policies is right on our website, where you can see our safety plans and the material covered by every institutional biosafety committee meeting.

Also, if you're interested in learning more about what research we actually do in our big, weird, admittedly intimidating-looking building, you can read more about it here. We work really hard on the research we do here, and most of us (grad students like myself, at least) don't get paid very well for it, so we're really just busting our asses in the lab because we love the science and we really genuinely care about understanding infectious diseases to hopefully save some lives in the future.

As a parting note on this topic, I will honestly say that I don't think we as a facility do as much as we probably should to better educate and clarify to the surrounding community how our containment systems and safety measures work, nor the nature of our research, and although community outreach and similar programs are way above my pay grade and not really within my power to influence or improve, I do really hope that the reaction to this story helps prompt the powers higher up to devote more of our resources to those things. I firmly believe that everyone living near a lab like ours should have the resources made readily available to them to understand what we do and how we ensure that it's safe, and if you have feedback on how we can better communicate that information to the public, please let our public relations people know - there's contact information on our website!

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This may be the most useful comment ever posted to UHub.

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