Several commentators on the web have recently raised skepticism about the truthfulness of the statements the National Institutes for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci gave to Republican Senator Rand Paul.

During a congressional hearing held on May 11th, Fauci talked about the types of research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Particularly controversial was the funding to the research conducted by the Wuhan Institute of Technology in China.

Several experts were worried that the results of that research could be used by the Chinese government to build biological weapons, including Senator Paul.

Responding to Senator Paul

During the hearing, Senator Paul expressed his concerns about the utilization of the so-called “gain-of-function” research in the Wuhan laboratory.

Paul said that this type of research is particularly troublesome as it involves a purposeful modification of the natural-occurring virus to increase its virulence.

He then shared the information about the Wuhan collaboration of American and Chinese scientists.

The scientists reportedly worked to create a “super-virus” by ‘inserting a spike protein of a bat-virus into a backbone of the SARS virus.’

Senator Paul asked if Dr. Fauci supported this sort of research.

Dr. Fauci responded by denying the truthfulness of any of Senator Paul’s claims.

He said that there had been no NIH-funded “gain-of-function” research, adding that a “super-virus” example offered by Paul does not constitute such research.

Fauci emphasized that the research in the Wuhan laboratory was supported as it would have been ‘irresponsible not to investigate the SARS-CoV-1 that originated in bats in China.’

Paul responded by saying that the data collected in this sort of research could easily be misused by the Chinese government.

Resurfacing of the old video

The skepticism about Fauci’s claims rose after the Fox News Channel aired an old video from December 17th, 2012. The video contained Fauci’s explanation of what the “gain-of-function” research consists of.

The famous immunologist said that the “gain-of-function” research might involve studies in which the transmissibility, pathogenicity, or the host range of a virus had been increased.

Back then, Fauci stressed that these results might be achieved by either making mutations, passage adaptations, or using some newer genetic techniques such as reverse genetics.

He tried to explain that such research is important to deepen the understanding of pathogen’s genesis, antimicrobial resistance, host responses, and therapeutic technologies.

In response to the resurfaced video, many commentators pointed out that the research conducted in the Wuhan laboratory perfectly satisfied the definition of “gain-of-function” research Fauci gave in 2012.

These comments only added up to the confusion about the role of the U.S. health agencies in suspicious research projects in China.

It remains to be seen whether and how this sort of confusion might be resolved.