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Sen. Joni Ernst slams Biden admin for funneling $2.8M for ‘high-risk pathogens’ research in Guinea

The Department of Defense began funding Georgetown University in September 2021 for a three-year project out of its Defense Threat Reduction Agency focused on “reducing the risk of pathogens causing fever” in Guinea, a grant database shows.

EcoHealth Alliance has received subgrants as part of the project — despite concerns from lawmakers and scientific experts that the Manhattan-based nonprofit has used US taxpayers’ money to fund “risky” research in the past — including at a lab in Wuhan, China, the city where the COVID-19 pandemic started.

“It’s clear EcoHealth can’t be trusted — with dollars or dangerous diseases — after they funneled taxpayer dollars to fund Chinese-run risky research in Wuhan,” Ernst (R-Iowa) told The Post.

“That’s why Congress approved my proposal to audit the defense dollars flowing to and through EcoHealth to pay for batty experiments in China or anywhere else. Even after my provision, more funds have already found their way to Ecohealth Alliance. We must stop this before they are used to make the world a less safe place.”

The scientific research is aimed at “reducing the risk of pathogens causing fever” in Guinea, a grant database shows, and “will test blood samples” from human patients and “assess” bats, dogs, rodents and livestock “with which the patients may interact,” according to researchers at Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Sciences and Security.

The researchers are partnering with EcoHealth Alliance for help with observing and recording animal behavior and have paid the organization more than $150,000 so far.

EcoHealth funded bat coronavirus experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that increased virality and proposed other research that may have resulted in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that spawned the COVID-19 pandemic, according to government records and experts on viral research.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided more than $1.4 million to EcoHealth Alliance between 2014 and 2021 for research that “included genetic experiments to combine naturally occurring bat coronaviruses with SARS and MERS viruses, resulting in hybridized (also known as chimeric) coronavirus strains,” according to a June 2023 federal report.

In an October 2021 letter, NIH principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak admitted to Congress that EcoHealth had also “failed to report” having created novel coronaviruses that exceeded “a one log increase in growth.”

Those experiments may have constituted gain-of-function research, with NIH documents confirming that humanized mice showed up to a 4 log increase to the growth rate of the original virus — or 10,000 times greater, The Intercept reported.

Tabak said the NIH grant could not have produced COVID-19, since the “sequences of the viruses are genetically very distant,” but another proposal from EcoHealth is now being cited as “smoking gun” evidence that it leaked out of a lab in Wuhan.

In 2018, EcoHealth submitted a grant proposal, known as Project DEFUSE, which would have tested engineered bat coronaviruses to make them more easily transmissible.

EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak sought to “downplay” that much of the research would be conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in order to make DARPA feel “comfortable,” according to a draft proposal obtained by US Right to Know.

In 2018, EcoHealth submitted a grant proposal, known as Project DEFUSE, which would have tested engineered bat coronaviruses to make them more easily transmissible.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) rejected it. However, the work may have continued with researchers in Wuhan with the help of Chinese government funding.

Other Project DEFUSE documents raise “to the level of a smoking gun,” the genetic evidence of COVID-19 being engineered, Rutgers University molecular biologist Richard Ebright told The Post.

A spokesperson for EcoHealth said in a previous statement on the disclosures that the proposals were “incomplete or early drafts” and the allegations of the virus being engineered from it were “false, based on misleading out-of-context quotations, and a lack of understanding of the process by which federal grants are awarded.”

“Because the work was not selected for funding, any assertions about these details are by definition based on review of incomplete information and are extremely misleading,” the spokesperson added.

The Energy Department and FBI have since determined an accidental lab leak was the most likely explanation for the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe went as far as to say it was the “only” explanation for COVID’s origin.

The Post has also reached out to EcoHealth about the grant for Guinea research. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The White Coat Waste Project, a taxpayer watchdog group that first exposed the Wuhan funding, is partnering with Ernst to “curtail wasteful government spending” on EcoHealth-related research on viruses that “can cause lab leaks and create bioweapons.”

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