Top U.S. virologist Ralph Baric engineered the COVID-19 virus SARS-CoV-2 in his lab at the University of North Carolina as part of his work in connection with the 2018 DEFUSE funding proposal. That’s the story that’s been going round the internet for some months now (and not just in alternative media) and it all looks very damning for Baric and those connected with his research. Details of the DEFUSE project were first leaked by Major Joseph Murphy, an employee of U.S. military research agency DARPA, in the summer of 2021 and further details of earlier drafts have come to light this month thanks to public record requests from U.S. Right to Know (USRTK).
In DEFUSE, Baric proposed to create a virus that was, to most intents and purposes, SARS-CoV-2. The proposal included inserting a furin cleavage site into a coronavirus spike protein, an order for the restriction enzyme BsmBI, the search for a binding domain that would infect ACE2 human receptors and a requirement for a viral genome around 25% different to SARS.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus contains a furin cleavage site in its spike protein, its genome includes the restriction enzyme BsmBI, it has a receptor binding domain finely tuned to infect the ACE2 human receptor and its genome is around 25% different to SARS. A number of virologists have said that such features make SARS-CoV-2 a smoking gun for an engineered virus.
Many regard this as case closed for the lab leak.
But this is not the full story. That’s because Baric’s DEFUSE proposal did not win the DARPA funding. And while it is rightly pointed out that, with or without the funding, much of the work was already in hand, it’s what happened next with the winning DARPA proposal where the story really gets interesting.
U.S. researcher Jim Haslam has done an incredible job on his Substack page Reverse engineering the origins of SARS-CoV-2 documenting all the toings and froings among the virology community in connection with the creation of this peculiar virus and the subsequent cover-up. What follows is in large part indebted to his meticulous research, though any errors are of course my own.
The winning 2018 DARPA bid – for a project called PREEMPT – included top bat virus specialist Dr. Vincent Munster (pictured above) based at Anthony Fauci’s NIH Rocky Mountain Lab. Both Munster’s PREEMPT proposal and Baric’s losing DEFUSE project had the same basic idea: to try to prevent a (hypothetical) future pandemic by using an engineered virus to vaccinate the bats from which it is believed such a virus was likely to spill over. The idea being, of course, that the vaccinated bats would no longer be a reservoir for the virus, thus ‘defusing’ or ‘preempting’ the zoonotic spillover. Sounds crazy? Too right – far too much meddling with nature and placing too much faith in the ability of vaccines to prevent infection and transmission. But crazy or not, that’s what the scientists proposed, and Munster’s PREEMPT proposal won and DEFUSE lost.
The key difference between Baric’s DEFUSE and Munster’s PREEMPT proposal – aside from Munster’s proposal coming in around $4m cheaper at $10m – is that rather than relying on spraying bat caves with a non-transmissible virus-vaccine, Munster’s plan involved making the virus-vaccine transmit between the bats via aerosols. This made it a self-spreading vaccine, able (in theory) to reach all the bats without humans having to go and find all their caves and spray them. The risks of such a plan should have been obvious. Indeed, Baric himself, who went awfully quiet after his DEFUSE project leaked in mid-2021, resurfaced in mid-2023 to say that such work involving engineering transmissible virus-vaccines was “too edgy” for him.
After the DARPA funding went to Munster, Fauci rode to Baric’s rescue with a bumper $82m programme called CREID, awarded in summer 2019, in which both Baric’s and Munster’s teams would cooperate in the research into Munster’s concept of self-spreading bat vaccines. Already in late 2018 Baric and Munster cooperated on a project trying to infect Egyptian fruit bats with a SARS-like virus.
Exactly what happened next is not publicly documented, so we do need to fill in some gaps. It appears that Munster took Baric’s patented SARS virus-vaccine and made a transmissible version at his Rocky Mountain Lab (Baric’s version was not intended to be transmissible). What is the evidence for that? Perhaps most telling is that, as Jim Haslam observes, SARS-CoV-2 transmits efficiently in only five known mammals, and those five – American deer, American deer mice, Syrian hamsters, American mink and Egyptian fruit bats – are all found in Munster’s (and Fauci’s) Rocky Mountain Lab in Montana. SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t infect lab animals common in Chinese labs or present in the WIV, such as Chinese horseshoe bats. This would suggest that SARS-CoV-2 acquired its transmissibility in an American lab context and not a Chinese one or elsewhere.
The virus-vaccine having been made transmissible in Montana, it would then have been sent to the WIV to be tested on Chinese bats, which were not available in American labs. There can be little doubt who would have done this testing at the WIV, as there was only one scientist with the necessary connections and expertise. Dr. Danielle Anderson, known as Dani to her colleagues, gained fame in June 2021 as the “last and only foreign scientist in the Wuhan lab” as she went public to make the case for a zoonotic origin. Dani was a member of the Lancet origins commission, chaired by Jeffrey Sachs and disbanded by him in October 2021 over frustrations that the Western virologists like Dani weren’t cooperating. Dani was based on and off at the WIV in the high security BSL4 lab (not Shi Zhengli’s BSL2 lab), but she didn’t work for the WIV. She worked for Duke-NUS, the Singapore-based medical school of North Carolina’s Duke University, under the virologist Dr. Linfa Wang. Linfa and Anderson were part of Baric’s DEFUSE proposal, and Duke-NUS was later a partner in Fauci’s CREID project.
Anderson’s role in DEFUSE was to test the virus-vaccines on “wild-caught captive” Chinese horseshoe bats at the WIV. It is thus reasonable to assume it is her who would be responsible for testing Munster’s self-spreading virus-vaccine on the same Chinese bats. This would explain how the virus got to Wuhan.
It would explain, in other words, how a non-transmissible virus-vaccine designed by Ralph Baric at UNC as per the DEFUSE proposal became a transmissible virus and ended up on the loose in Wuhan. Namely, because it escaped via a laboratory-acquired infection during Anderson’s testing of it on Chinese horseshoe bats in her WIV BSL4 lab, with Dani herself or a colleague as patient zero.
Admittedly, we don’t have direct evidence of this – we don’t have direct evidence that a Munster-Baric SARS-2 virus-vaccine was being tested on Chinese bats in the WIV in 2019, nor that Dr. Anderson or a colleague was infected by it in the lab. But there is a heap of evidence that points to it as a likely scenario.
We know, for instance, that both Baric and Munster were proposing to vaccinate Chinese bats using an engineered virus, in Baric’s case with a furin cleavage site inserted to increase infectivity. We know that Munster’s PREEMPT proposal, in which the virus-vaccine was to be self-spreading, won the DARPA funding, beating Baric’s DEFUSE proposal for a non-self-spreading virus-vaccine, and that in 2019 both teams were brought together in an $82m grant from Fauci’s NIAID.
We know that SARS-CoV-2 readily transmits in the lab animals found in Munster’s Rocky Mountain Lab but not in the lab animals found in the WIV. From this we can further conclude that Dr. Anderson’s experiment to infect Chinese horseshoe bats with the new virus at the WIV presumably failed. This may be why she left Wuhan at the end of November, which was the deadline for the ‘scientific merit review’ for CREID.
It also appears that Dani’s supervisor Linfa Wang may have quickly realised that SARS-CoV-2 was one of his viruses. This would explain why he resigned from his post as Director of Duke’s Emerging Infectious Disease programme, a position he had held for nearly a decade, on the same day that the genome was published, January 10th 2020. The reason for his abrupt resignation has never been disclosed. Four days earlier he had told the New York Times he was frustrated that scientists in China were not allowed to speak to him about the outbreak. He cautioned against panic, arguing the virus was likely not spreading between humans because health workers had not contracted the disease. But privately was he fretting that it was from his lab – is that why he immediately resigned when the genome was published? It is hard to understand what else could have led him to quit so suddenly at that point, and the lack of explanation adds to the suspicion. He later called January 10th “the most important day in the COVID-19 outbreak” because it was when the genome was published.
If Linfa was anticipating the bad news, it could have been because he and Dani had been aware of the leak at the time it happened. Analysis of mobile phone records discovered an apparent shutdown of Dr. Anderson’s BSL4 lab between October 7th and 24th 2019 (identified by the lack of mobile phone usage in the vicinity). Nothing further has come to light about this incident and what lay behind it, but if it does denote a laboratory-acquired infection that Anderson and Linfa (and presumably others) were aware of, it would explain a lot.
The realisation that it was an engineered virus from the U.S. may also have driven the panic that pushed the Chinese Government to lock Wuhan down shortly after the genome was published.
Since 2021, Ralph Baric has thrown himself into developing vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses, even entertaining fantasies of “ring vaccination”, as is done with Ebola, to try to stop the outbreak in its tracks. Is this his way of trying to make amends, however misguided? I wonder if we are also able to detect a hint of him pointing to who he thinks is really to blame for the debacle, when he remarks that “governments, rather than scientists” are primarily responsible for choosing which risky gain-of-function experiments to fund and run – a reference perhaps to how Munster’s “edgy” engineering of transmissible virus-vaccines was picked over his non-transmissible version.
“It looks like American science is going to get shredded for a pandemic that started in China,” he told Time‘s Dan Werb, reverting to denial. When Werb suggested to him that despite the “conspiracy theories” there are many people happy that he became a scientist in the first place, he replied: “A fair number that probably wished I hadn’t. Let’s be honest.”
Is that the closest we’ll get to a confession?