China gaining reputation as global dumping ground for Frankenstein-style experiments
04/05/2021 // Nolan Barton // Views

China is fast gaining a reputation as the global dumping ground for Frankenstein-style experiments, which create hybrid animals and risk unleashing deadly viruses.

Despite the controversial World Health Organization (WHO) report that dismissed the lab leak theory as the origin of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), it is still widely believed that the disease originated from a virus at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

This is why German scientist Dr. Roland Wiesendanger found it "inexcusable and irresponsible" that some countries were outsourcing risky biotechnological research in China.

But many countries, particularly in Europe, prohibit some forms of biotechnological research for ethical reasons. China, on the other hand, has no qualms in carrying out all kinds of dangerous and ethically controversial research.

Because of these circumstances, China is "viewed as a dumping ground and giant test tube for all kinds of dangerous and ethically controversial research outlawed by Western countries, similar to how it became a dumping ground for recyclable waste in past decades," according to Christina Lin, a California-based foreign and security policy analyst.

China seeks to establish itself as biotech superpower

China is planning to build seven more high-security labs similar to the WIV by 2025 as the country seeks to establish itself as a biotech superpower. Chinese scientists also created a model for studying SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by creating mice with human-like lung characteristics.


They used gene-editing technology to give the mice lung cells the ACE2 receptor, which allows the virus to infect humans.

An official from the U.S. embassy in Beijing told the Washington Post that there was an "entire galaxy of activity, including labs and military labs in Beijing and Wuhan playing around with coronaviruses in ACE2 mice in unsafe labs."

Chinese scientists are known to have been tinkering with viruses to make them more infectious. Known as "gain of function experiments," they were originally banned in the U.S. in 2014 but reintroduced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2017. (Related: Covid-19 is just the beginning as communist China plots new killer viruses.)

Such studies were known to help scientists prepare for a pandemic, but they could also cause irreparable damage if the virus escaped from the lab.

NIH had funded this dangerous research in the WIV through a grant to the EcoHealth Alliance, but there is no proven link between these experiments and COVID-19.

Dr. Wiesendanger said a virus tinkered within the lab could be even more devastating than COVID – potentially with a death rate of up to 80 percent.

"Current biotechnological methods, as used in gain of function experiments, could potentially be used to combine properties of viruses with a very high human-to-human transmission rate and a very high death rate," he said. "We urgently need international regulations and surveys for these types of experiments."

Ethical concerns are of no concern in China

Chinese scientists have also made headlines in creating hybrid animals.

In 2019, Chinese scientists worked with Spanish-born biologist Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte to create "human-animal chimeras," in this case monkey embryos to which human cells are added.

The team claimed to have created a human-monkey hybrid embryo using groundbreaking scientific techniques. The scientists injected human stem cells into a monkey embryo that had been genetically modified to deactivate the genes that control organ growth. Stem cells are the body's master cells with the potential to become any type of tissue or bone. The team said the cells survived and formed a hybrid embryo.

It is said the creature could have grown and been born, but scientists aborted the process. The embryos had a "red line" at 14 days' gestation, which means they couldn't grow and develop a nervous system.

Scientists on the team from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California and the Murcia Catholic University in Spain admitted it was carried out in China to dodge ethical concerns.

Federal funds cannot be used to create mixed human-monkey embryos in the U.S. In Canada, putting non-human stem cells into human embryos was a crime under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act.

Head transplant, monkey-pig hybrid, smart monkey, gene-edited babies and super soldiers

Italian scientist Sergio Canavero has been carrying out head transplant experiments with Dr. Ren Xiaoping at Harbin Medical University in China.

Canavero and Ren want to carry out the world's first human head transplant on a human. A head transplant was due to be carried out on severely disabled Russian man Valery Spiridonov. Their work is sponsored by the Chinese government.

The duo published in a scientific journal the results of the transplants which showed that monkeys and dogs were able to walk again after their spinal cords were "fully transected" during surgery and then put back together again. Pictures released of the experiments show a monkey with its head stitched onto its neck, while other images show mice whose spines had been severed being taught to walk again.

The world's first monkey-pig hybrids were born as part of experiments at the State Key Laboratory of Stem Cell and Reproductive Biology in Beijing.

Stem cells from macaque monkeys were grown in a lab and then injected into pig embryos five days after fertilization. Of more than 4,000 implanted in sows, ten piglets were born. But only two were chimeras – animals with cells from two different species – and both died in a week.

That same year Chinese scientists "gene hacked" a group of monkeys to make them smarter in an experiment branded "reckless" by experts. The experiment involved exposing monkeys to human genes that affect the development of human brains.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui created the world's first gene-edited babies in 2019, with his team involved in the birth of three spliced tots from two women.

He said he had used a tool called CRISPR to try to disable a gene that allows the AIDS virus to enter a cell, in a bid to give the girls the ability to resist the infection. The CRISPR tool has been tested elsewhere in adults to treat diseases, but many in the scientific community denounced his work as medically unnecessary and unethical because any genetic changes could be passed down to future generations.

The experiment was dubbed "monstrous" by others within the scientific community. According to experts, gene-editing in people could "divide humans into subspecies" and can cause mutations, genetic problems and cancer.

Chinese scientists have also conducted tests on members of its armed forces, aiming to develop "biologically enhanced" soldiers, a US intelligence chief has said.

John Ratcliffe, who served as President Donald Trump's director of national intelligence, made the claim in a newspaper editorial warning that China posed the "greatest threat to America today."

In his piece, Ratcliffe said Chinese authorities had "conducted human testing" on members of the Chinese army "in hopes of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities."

"While the potential leveraging of [gene editing] to increase human capabilities on the future battlefield remains only a hypothetical possibility at the present, there are indications that Chinese military researchers are starting to explore its potential," he said.

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