Chinese researchers have conducted a study involving a highly lethal mutated strain of COVID-19, resulting in a 100% mortality rate in genetically-modified mice. The study, which comes from Beijing, used a strain called GX_P2V, derived from GX/2017, a coronavirus relative discovered in Malaysian pangolins before the pandemic.
In the experiment, "humanized" mice, engineered to have genetic similarities to humans, were infected with GX_P2V.
The virus proved devastatingly effective, causing rapid deterioration and death within eight days, affecting multiple organs including the lungs, bones, eyes, tracheas, and particularly the brains of the mice. The severity of brain infections was pinpointed as the primary cause of death.
The disturbing physical symptoms observed in the mice before death included rapid weight loss, a hunched posture, sluggish movement, and, notably, their eyes turning completely white a day before dying.
"This underscores a spillover risk of GX_P2V into humans and provides a unique model for understanding the pathogenic mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2-related viruses," the authors wrote.
Despite the alarming findings, the study's implications for human susceptibility remain unclear. However, the research has sparked significant backlash from the scientific community.
Francois Balloux, an epidemiology expert at University College London’s Genetics Institute, criticized the study as "terrible" and "scientifically totally pointless," questioning the value and risks of such experiments.
"I can see nothing of vague interest that could be learned from force-infecting a weird breed of humanized mice with a random virus. Conversely, I could see how much stuff might go wrong," he continued. "The preprint does not specify the biosafety level and biosafety precautions used for the research."
Concerns were raised about the biosafety level and precautions taken during the research, with Balloux highlighting the lack of information on these critical aspects. He drew parallels to the research conducted in Wuhan between 2016–2019, suggesting potential similarities in biosafety lapses.
Richard H. Ebright, a professor at Rutgers University, and Dr. Gennadi Glinsky, a retired Stanford professor, have echoed Balloux’s concerns, calling for an end to such high-risk research.
The study, dated 2024, is reportedly independent of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was previously at the center of lab leak theories during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite investigations by U.S. intelligence agencies, no direct evidence was found linking the Wuhan lab to the pandemic's origin, though the possibility of a lab leak from another source was not excluded.
This recent study adds to the ongoing debate around the risks and ethical boundaries of virus mutation research.