Wuhan Institute of Virology
|Founder||Chen Huagui, Gao Shangyin|
|Headquarters||Xiaohongshan, Wuchang District, Wuhan, Hubei, China|
Secretary of Party Committee
|Gong Peng, Guan Wuxiang, Xiao Gengfu|
|Chinese Academy of Sciences|
|Wuhan Institute of Virology|
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (WIV; Chinese: 中国科学院武汉病毒研究所) is a research institute on virology administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which reports to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. Located in Jiangxia District, Wuhan, Hubei, it opened mainland China's first biosafety level 4 (BSL–4) laboratory. The institute has strong ties to the Galveston National Laboratory in the United States, the Centre International de Recherche en Infectiologie in France and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Canada. The institute has been an active research center for the study of coronaviruses.
The WIV was founded in 1956 as the Wuhan Microbiology Laboratory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). In 1961, it became the South China Institute of Microbiology, and in 1962 was renamed Wuhan Microbiology Institute. In 1970, it became the Microbiology Institute of Hubei Province when the Hubei Commission of Science and Technology took over the administration. In June 1978, it was returned to the CAS and renamed Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In 2003, the Chinese academy of Sciences approved the construction of China's first biosafety level 4 (BSL–4) laboratory at the WIV. The construction of the WIV's National Bio-safety Laboratory was completed at a cost of 300 million yuan ($44 million) in collaboration with the French government's CIRI lab at the end of 2014. The new laboratory building has 3000 m2 of BSL-4 space, and also 20 BSL-2 and two BSL-3 laboratories. The BSL-4 facilities were accredited by the China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS) in January 2017, with the BSL-4 level lab put into operation in January 2018.
The National Bio-safety Laboratory has strong ties to the Galveston National Laboratory in the University of Texas. It also had strong ties with Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory until WIV staff scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband Keding Cheng, who were also remunerated by the Canadian government, were escorted from the Canadian lab for undisclosed reasons in July 2019. The WIV has participated in gain of function research in partnership with US universities and institutions.
A number of safety precautions were taken into consideration when building the Wuhan lab. The lab was built far away from any flood plain. It was also built to withstand a magnitude-7 earthquake, even though the region has no history of earthquakes. The scientific community was also reassured that many Wuhan lab scientists were trained in safety procedures at a BSL-4 lab in Lyon, France. Scientists such as U.S. molecular biologist Richard H. Ebright, who had expressed concern of previous escapes of the SARS virus at Chinese laboratories in Beijing and had been troubled by the pace and scale of China's plans for expansion into BSL–4 laboratories, called the institute a "world-class research institution that does world-class research in virology and immunology" while he noted that the WIV is a world leader in the study of bat coronaviruses.
In 2005, a group including researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology published research into the origin of the SARS coronavirus, finding that China's horseshoe bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. Continuing this work over a period of years, researchers from the institute sampled thousands of horseshoe bats in locations across China, isolating over 300 bat coronavirus sequences.
In 2015, an international team including two scientists from the institute published successful research on whether a bat coronavirus could be made to infect HeLa. The team engineered a hybrid virus, combining a bat coronavirus with a SARS virus that had been adapted to grow in mice and mimic human disease. The hybrid virus was able to infect human cells.
In 2017, a team from the institute announced that coronaviruses found in horseshoe bats at a cave in Yunnan contain all the genetic pieces of the SARS virus, and hypothesized that the direct progenitor of the human virus originated in this cave. The team, who spent five years sampling the bats in the cave, noted the presence of a village only a kilometer away, and warned of "the risk of spillover into people and emergence of a disease similar to SARS".
In 2018, another paper by a team from the institute reported the results of a serological study of a sample of villagers residing near these bat caves (near Xiyang Township 夕阳乡 in Jinning District of Yunnan). According to this report, 6 out of the 218 local residents in the sample carried antibodies to the bat coronaviruses in their blood, indicating the possibility of transmission of the infections from bats to people.
In December 2019, cases of pneumonia associated with an unknown coronavirus were reported to health authorities in Wuhan. The institute checked its coronavirus collection and found the new virus had 96% genetic similarity to RaTG13, a virus its researchers had discovered in horseshoe bats in southwest China.
As the virus spread worldwide, the institute continued its investigation. In February 2020, the New York Times reported that a team led by Shi Zhengli at the institute were the first to identify, analyze and name the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), upload it to public databases for scientists around the world to understand, and publish papers in Nature. On 19 February 2020, the lab released a letter on its website describing how they successfully obtained the whole virus genome. In February 2020, in a move that raised concerns regarding intellectual property rights, the institute applied for a patent in China for the use of remdesivir, an experimental drug owned by Gilead Sciences, which the institute found inhibited the virus in vitro. The WIV said it would not exercise its new Chinese patent rights "if relevant foreign companies intend to contribute to the prevention and control of China’s epidemic".
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the laboratory has been the focus of conspiracy theories and unfounded speculation about the origin of the virus. Shi Zheng-Li commented on this controversy by saying: "Sadly, WIV was at the center of the misleading speculations regarding the origin of the virus, which were not fully clarified until a recent joint study was performed by an international expert team led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese experts." In April 2020, the Trump administration terminated a NIH grant to research how coronaviruses spread from bats to humans. On February 9, 2021, after investigations in Wuhan, the WHO said a laboratory "leak" origin for COVID-19 was "extremely unlikely", confirming what experts already expected about the likely origins and early transmission.
The Institute contains the following research centers:
- Center for Emerging Infectious Disease
- Chinese Virus Resources and Bioinformatics Center
- Center of Applied and Environmental Microbiology
- Department of Analytical Biochemistry and Biotechnology
- Department of Molecular Virology
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The viral sequences, most researchers say, also knock down the idea the pathogen came from a virology institute in Wuhan.
- Zhengli, Shi; Team of 29 researchers at the WIV (3 February 2020). "A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin". Nature. 579 (7798): 270–273. Bibcode:2020Natur.579..270Z. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2012-7. PMC 7095418. PMID 32015507.
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The lab leak hypothesis is an extremely unlikely pathway for COVID-19 and will not require further study as part of their work in studying the origins of the virus, Embarek says.
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Wuhan Institute of Virology