The recent Senate report on COVID origins is overtly political & contains many factual errors.

Some of the most glaring are extremely basic but may not seem so to a non-virologist. As I am a virologist, I can help. Let’s talk about biosafety at WIV.

nytimes.com/2022/10/27/sci…
The report contains a lengthy section regarding biosafety lapses at WIV. It claims to show evidence of multiple biocontainment breaches.

That sounds very bad! But how reliable is this evidence?
help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/… Image
First thing people need to know about working in biocontainment is that it’s not a “set it and forget it” mentality. You don’t build a containment lab and say, all done, let’s get to cooking up SARSr-CoV chimeras. Biosafety is a constant effort.
I work in one of the largest BSL3 labs in the world. I handle infectious SARS-CoV-2 on a near daily basis. Biosafety & biocontainment is at the front of my mind in everything I do. I have multiple colleagues whose full-time jobs are dedicated to the integrity of our lab.
There are multiple levels where biosafety protocols are implemented: all the way from individual (appropriate PPE & proper training) to the facility design & infrastructure (negative pressure, HEPA filters, waste disposal) to administrative (operational procedures, security).
Part of facility operations include regular maintenance. You make sure air handling is operating normally, the autoclaves are working, etc. Sometimes equipment breaks, so it’s replaced. Sometimes you realize there’s a better alternative, so you upgrade it.
The goal is to conduct essential research as safely as possible and constantly assessing whether that safety standard is met. If you can improve, you do—BEFORE a breach. Biosafety is about avoiding containment failures, not reacting to them.

That’s what I see in this report.
So when I see stuff like this, it seems pretty normal to me. Another key part of facility design is system redundancy. Here, WIV patented an auxiliary exhaust fan to maintain an air pressure gradient. You maintain negative air pressure in labs so pathogens can’t float out. Image
Here, WIV procured a vaporized hydrogen peroxide system to disinfect air coming from the lab. They even explain why they procured it: it’s less corrosive than an alternative. It’s an example of proactively upgrading critical equipment, not evidence of biosafety failure. Image
Same here. They were renovating the HVAC system to ensure lab air was contained in the lab. This is not evidence that any of the things they were explicitly trying to prevent (reversal of airflow, re-circulation of lab air) had ever occurred. Image
Another purchase of air decontamination equipment. Again this is a redundant system: rather than relying on filters alone, they bought a system to sterilize lab exhaust air prior to HEPA filtration. It shows there were multiple processes in place to prevent a containment breach. Image
Here WIV invented a sensor to detect HEPA filter malfunction on equipment used to transfer animals between labs. It improves function of containment measures, which again will be redundant (staff will also wear PPE, & the building itself has all the air handling stuff above). Image
And they invented a new disinfectant formulation. Liquid disinfectant is essential & we use it by the literal bucket. Many labs use Microchem, which is very effective but corrosive over time—it eventually wears out other equipment. Where can I get some less corrosive Microchem? Image
And…that’s it. No evidence of a breach or biosafety failure, but lots of evidence that they were operating a containment lab in a pretty standard way, with one exception: WIV was more innovative than many others and patented some of the bespoke systems they developed.
Which brings me to this. OMG in addition to upgrading and purchasing equipment for lab operations, they were also dealing with budget, procurement, and administrative issues, and as a result they were (gasp) MAKING POLICIES AND DOING BIOSAFETY TRAINING Image
This shows the high cost of maintenance. It’s true that BSL3/4 labs are expensive to operate (see lots of purchases above—infrastructure ain’t cheap). But here they identify this as a potential problem. Fixing problems before they cause a breach is essential to biosafety. Image
And one way to address issues of working with pathogens in substandard biocontainment is to pass laws preventing it and administratively regulate what labs can do certain research. Laws like this one. Image
And they were having a tough time getting equipment, which explains why they were so inventive. They also had meetings to remedy these shortfalls and to manage biosafety more effectively. ImageImage
And November 12, they reported that they solved a lot of these problems! Contrary to the Senate report, as well as a lot of linguistic speculation by the Chinese secrets “expert” profiled in that Vanity Fair/ProPublica piece about it, there is no mention of a biosafety failure. ImageImage
Now I’m not an expert in Chinese secrets or marginalia and I don’t speak Mandarin, but @zhihuachen has a great thread about how this report was actually just bragging to their bosses that aforementioned issues were solved, now let’s get back to safely kicking some virology ass.
I did like this part. I routinely work for 4+ hours in containment. Experiments take time. It’s not “an extreme test of will & physical endurance.” It’s a normal afternoon at work.

Burr may want to consider hardier staff, if they imagine a few hours of pipetting are so taxing. Image
And then WIV also had some biosafety training. Working in containment is “complex and grave” in that you need to be serious about biosafety & ready to respond to failures. That means you need to be properly trained. Training is ongoing & is part of how you prevent breaches. Image
And that’s it! No evidence of a biocontainment breach or a biosafety failure, other than lab leak fan fiction invented by people with no clue about how biosafety actually works reading documents that reflect the daily considerations & challenges of operating a containment lab.
Let’s hope that the bipartisan investigation which Sen. @PattyMurray said is ongoing consults experts who actually understand how operational biosafety works rather than a bunch of political science majors & Chinese secret translators.

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More from @angie_rasmussen

Dec 5
I blocked @Ayjchan long ago for repeatedly acting as a fundamentally dishonest interlocutor.

But her just asking questions routine of late has focused on conflicts of interest. I have some questions of my own, so I unblocked to ask.

Why haven’t you disclosed *your* COI, Alina? Image
Alina thinks it’s unethical & suspicious that the authors of the infamous Proximal Origin paper didn’t acknowledge everyone they talked to on the topic while the paper was being written, including Fauci. So I looked at Alina’s most recent origins work to see who she acknowledged. ImageImageImageImage
Let’s start with her first preprint related to #OriginOfCOVID. Alina’s been trying to get her “preadaptation” manuscript through peer review for ages. Who contributed intellectually & who funded it?

biorxiv.org/content/10.110…
Read 29 tweets
Nov 28
So this preprint is making the rounds this morning and I’ve seen everything from “ignore it, it’s crap” to “widespread outdoor transmission irrefutably confirmed!”

What’s going on here?

covid.dropcite.com/articles/0bda8…
The gist is this guy went to Tibet for a day, came home to Chongqing and went for a jog in the park around a lake. Sounds nice!

Then he tested positive immediately after getting back. Not so nice.

Then a bunch of other people at the park also tested positive. Not nice at all. Image
But things aren’t entirely adding up: According to the preprint, the jogger got COVID on the plane. A full DAY after anyone with COVID had been on it, because it hadn’t been disinfected & he sat across the aisle and a row up from where 3 other cases sat the day before. Image
Read 14 tweets
Nov 22
Lots of speculation about what went down in the infamous 2/1/20 teleconference. Lab leak proponents think Fauci conspired with an international group of experts to cover up lab origin because evil gain of function virologist cartel.

Unsurprisingly, they are wrong.
In this email, Tony Fauci tells Jeremy Farrar that what he's heard from Kristian Andersen is troubling. If it holds up, Fauci himself recommends contacting authorities immediately.

Doesn't seem like the knee jerk response of a guy trying to cover up a lab leak. Image
Here's what Kristian Andersen & Eddie Holmes showed that caused them concern:
-Comparing RaTG13 & SARS-CoV-2
-Lots of mutations in spike RBD
-Gain of furin cleavage site at S1/S2 junction
-Gain of BamHI restriction site in N-term of spike
-F to Y reversion to SARS-like RBD ImageImageImage
Read 44 tweets
Nov 17
What do absurd pandemic prevention policy proposals have to do with the catastrophic collapse of crypto markets?

Quite a lot, actually, and it all comes back to this guy:

nytimes.com/2022/11/14/tec…
This dude is Sam Bankman-Fried AKA SBF. Until last week, he was the billionaire head of FTX, a crypto exchange, and was known for being an “effective altruism” philanthropist. Effective altruism is the idea of using evidence & reason to benefit the most people.
In Silicon Valley, that means where to direct the most money. And because “longtermism” (pursuing long term goals to benefit future generations) is a big theme in EA, in practice this means giving money to pursue policies with lasting impact years or decades from now.
Read 36 tweets
Jul 26
Where did the pandemic begin?

Was it from nature or a lab?

Since the start, this fundamental question has gone unanswered.

Until now.

Out in @ScienceMagazine: SARS-CoV-2 emerged into humans via the live animal trade at the Huanan Seafood Market.
science.org/doi/10.1126/sc…
This is a companion to this paper, by @jepekar et al, also out today in @ScienceMagazine. This shows that there were at least two separate zoonotic spillover events at Huanan, probably a week or so apart.
science.org/doi/10.1126/sc…
For the last 2.5 years there's been lots of acrimonious debate on the various origin hypotheses: nature or lab leak? Much of it was data-free, conspiratorial speculation.

The only thing everyone could agree on was the need for an independent, evidence-based investigation.
Read 42 tweets

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