Media outlets and social media users have circulated news that U.S. researchers at Boston University have developed a new lethal Covid mutant strain in a laboratory. Daily Mail reported that the scientists made a hybrid virus combining Omicron and the original Wuhan strain and added that it killed 80 percent of mice in a study.
“The revelation exposes how dangerous virus manipulation research continues to go on even in the U.S. despite fears similar practices may have started the pandemic,” wrote the Daily Mail.
Professor Shmuel Shapira, a leading scientist in the Israeli Government, told the Daily Mail: “This should be totally forbidden. It's playing with fire.”
“Gain of function research - when viruses are purposefully manipulated to be more infectious or deadly - is thought to be at the center of Covid's origin,” the article reported.
The claim stirred concerns about the COVID-19 situation worldwide and sparked conspiracy theories targeting scientific research and purporting that the virus was created in scientific laboratories.
“Why is Boston University working to create a Covid that kills 80% of the mice it infects? How is this legal? Haven’t we learned one GD thing?” tweeted the TV shows host Rob Schmitt.
“Just in time for the midterms. Wait for it. Joe also just extended the COVID emergency by 90 days, when he said last month the COVID emergency is over,” a Twitter user commented.
The claim came nearly two years after the virus started invading the world, killing millions and leaving others jobless.
Boston University Refuted the Claim
After the claim went viral on social media, Boston University’s statement published online on October 17, 2022, called the reporting “false and inaccurate” and said it misrepresents what researchers found.
According to the statement, the allegation first appeared on Monday, October 17, 2022, in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, claiming researchers at the lab had “created a new deadly COVID strain. Other news outlets, including Fox News, later reported on the claim.
The university called the reporting “false and inaccurate” and stated that this research made the virus less dangerous. The statement also noted that the Institutional Biosafety Committee IBC, the Boston Health Commission, and local community members reviewed and approved the research.
The statement explains that the new reports pulled one line from the paper’s abstract out of context, suggesting the headline: “Deadly Covid strain with an 80 percent kill rate.”
According to Boston University, the newspaper made a series of other misleading claims, including that the study was “gain of function research,” alleging researchers set out to create a more deadly virus.
“They’ve sensationalized the message. They misrepresent the study and its goals in its entirety,” says Ronald B. Corley, NEIDL director and BU Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine chair of microbiology, described the reporting.
According to the statement, the study aimed to examine the spike proteins on the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant (BA.1) as the researchers were interested in comparing the variant with the original virus strain.
The scientists wanted to discover if the virus was less virulent “simply because it wasn’t infecting the same cells as the initial strain,” said Roland B. Corley. They were “interested in what part of the virus dictates how serious of a disease a person will get.”
“The Study’s Findings Were Taken Out of Context”
According to Ronald B. Corley, the circulating headline pulled out of context had nothing to do with the virus’s effects on humans. However, the study began in tissue culture and moved to an animal model.
“The animal model that was used was a particular type of mouse that is highly susceptible, and 80 to 100 percent of the infected mice succumb to disease from the original strain, the so-called Washington strain,” stated Corley. “Whereas Omicron causes a very mild disease in these animals,” he added.
“That 80 percent number is what the media reports latched onto, misrepresenting the study and its goals,” the statement concluded.