The nine Indian scientists had to withdraw their paper after huge criticism from many big scientists.
New Delhi: On 31 January 2020, nine Indian researchers published a paper on bioRxiv, an open access online repository, after their request to carry their research paper was rejected by seven prominent medical journals.
These nine researchers had found, to put it in layman’s language, that the Covid-19 virus was “manipulated” and “laboratory made”.
The researchers, who are from IIT Delhi and Acharya Narendra Dev College, University of Delhi, in their report titled “Uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag” wrote that they found at least “four insertions” in the spike glyco-proteins which are found in the crown like structure of the coronavirus. They stated that these insertions are “not” naturally found in any coronaviruses, while suggesting that the present Covid-19 virus was a “tailor made” virus.
However, they had to withdraw their paper from bioRxiv on 2 February after what they attribute to the massive criticism that they faced from many big scientists who described them as “rumour mongering scientists” and “attention seeking scientists” who had arrived at their conclusion without any scientific basis.
In fact, even Dr Anthony Fauci, member of the US Covid-19 task force and Director of the US’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), criticized the research paper.
This came to light after the contents of Fauci’s official email were made public by US-based journalists who had sought access to them through the Freedom of Information ACT (FOIA) (similar to RTI Act in India).
On 2 February 2020, inside 48 hours of the Indian researchers’ paper going online, Fauci, while responding to an email by Collin Francis, who is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in which he had shared an op-ed piece published in a science journal on the various origin of Covid 19, said: “The Indian paper is really outlandish.” The email was also marked to Lawrence A. Tabak, Principal Deputy Director of the NIH and Carrie Wolinetz, Director of the Office of Science Policy at the NIH.
On the same day, while responding to an email trail by his office colleagues, who had sought his advice on how to handle a request for response on the Indian research paper by a journalist with AFP, Fauci wrote “Geeeez”.
Courtney Billet, Director, Communications and Government Relations National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in the same email trail, wrote: “FYI re the paper from the Indian researchers. Talk about trying to put the genie back in the bottle! Yeesh.”
In another email that was a part of the same trail, Jennifer Routh, who was with the Office of Communications and Government Relations at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), wrote to his other colleagues: “We consulted with HHS and ASF. OCGR is going to send a note to the reporter to decline, noting that the paper is not peer-reviewed.”
HHS is United States Department of Health and Human Services, while OGCR is the NIAID’s Office of Communications and Government Relations.
On 4 February, Fauci received an email from an individual whose name has been redacted from the documents that were made public since the sender had requested Fauci to keep him anonymous.
However, the content of the email makes it clear that he is a scientist as he mentions he had his own “research lab”. The person wrote that he agreed with what the Indian researchers had found and asked Fauci to reach out to the researchers urgently.
“Dear Dr Fauci, as you realized, the Indian researcher published a paper a few days ago which was later withdrawn due to the controversial indication. I did a quick SWISS-MODEL online calculation. Page 1-3 of the attachment show the flexible loops of insertion “1”, “2”, and “3” originally from V4, V5 and Vl ofHIV-1 gp120, respectively. But they are in presence on the spike protein of both bat and 2019 coronavirus (page 4 and 6). These insertions are potential CD4 binding domains (no proof yet, but highly likely) and spatially won’t interfere with ACE-2 binding domain (both SARS and 2019 coronavirus target ACE-2, page 5 and 6). In another words, the 2019 virus could be potentially dual-targeting, infecting the lung and potentially CD4 T cells too (like HIV, see page 6)! It is VERY URGENT to have clinicians follow up the confirmed cases such as by isolating their CD4 cells and doing RT-PCR. Please reach out to them. Research labs, including mine, after obtaining Spike protein of 2019-nCoV shall examine its interaction with CD4.”
In response, Fauci asked his assistant to “Please have someone respond to this person”.
In their research papers, the Indian researchers wrote that the composition of the “inserts” in the Covid virus was similar to one found in HIV-1.
“The finding of 4 unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV, all of which have identity/similarity to amino acid residues in key structural proteins of HIV-1, is unlikely to be fortuitous in nature,” they wrote.
They further stated that while analyzing the glycoprotein (S protein) of the virus, they found that the presence of these four insertions was “…startling as it is quite unlikely for a virus to have acquired such unique insertions naturally in a short duration of time” and all the insertions, “unexpectedly, got aligned with Human immunodeficiency Virus-1 (HIV-1)”.
While speaking to The Sunday Guardian, a close associate of one the Indian researchers who carried out the research, stated that they had downloaded the sequence of the virus in the early week of January and began to study the proteins and structure of the virus.
During their research, they found that the spike protein of the Covid-19 virus had four “unusual inserts” into their spike proteins which opens only when the virus is attached to the ACE2 receptors in the human body, making it more virulent and lethal. Sources close to the researchers also said that such nature of the spike proteins which they are terming as “unusual inserts” do not naturally occur in any of the known coronaviruses.
The associate also pointed out how for a natural virus it takes about a minimum of six months to mutate, but the mutations seen in the Covid-19 virus was happening at a much faster speed, which is not natural.
“Whatever is published in the research paper they are completely sure of. The researchers still say that there are four unusual inserts in the Covid-19 virus which are not natural. But then they started receiving so much hostility from the international media, with members from their own scientific community raising doubts about their research, while calling them attention seekers and conspiracy theorists, that they decided to withdraw their paper,” the associate said.
Responding to the query about why they did not go for peer review, the associate said that they approached multiple journals to peer review the research papers and publish them, but all of them declined.
“They approached seven journals over a period of six months to peer review their work and publish it in their journals, but each one of them refused as they did not want to get embroiled in the controversy. They didn’t even agree to peer review and publish it even after they told them that they will tone down their paper,” the associate added, while stating that it took them around 20 days to reach their findings.
The Sunday Guardian also reached out to Professor Biswajit Kundu from IIT Delhi who is also a corresponding author. Professor Kundu said that he and his team of researchers stand by their research work.
“We still stand by what we had published. We are certain about our findings. We still stand by the fact that there have been four unusual inserts into the spike protein of the Covid-19 virus which does not occur naturally. We believe it is a laboratory made virus. We also know that the truth will come out sooner than later,” he told The Sunday Guardian.
The other eight people who were a part of this 14-page paper apart from Kundu are: Prashant Pradhan, Ashutosh Kumar Pandey, Akhilesh Mishra, Parul Gupta, Praveen Kumar Tripathi, Manoj Balakrishnan Menon, James Gomes and Perumal Vivekanandan.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to Anthony Fauci on his official email for a response to this report, seeking whether he still stood by his assertions that the paper was “outlandish”, especially in the wake of new findings and proofs that have emerged regarding the virus being produced in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In his response Fauci said: “My work with the Coronavirus Task Force and the large volume of incoming emails precludes me or my staff from answering each individual message. I would encourage you to visit www.coronavirus.gov for the latest information and guidance related to Covid-19.”