Back in 2018, long before the coronavirus pandemic dominated the headlines, the National Institute of Health (NIH) lab in Montana was hard at work conducting experiments on bats. The research, which focused on the spread of the virus, was funded by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as well as a research grant from NIH AID. Who was the director of NIAID at the time? None other than Dr. Anthony Fauci himself, the man who has become a household name during the COVID-19 crisis.
This groundbreaking research took place at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, which is described by NIAID as a “premier NIH facility for biomedical research.” The aim of the experiment was to determine whether the WIV1-coronavirus could infect and replicate in a group of 12 Egyptian fruit bats. The scientists responsible for the study conducted daily exams on the bats, measuring things like body weight and temperature. They also took samples from their noses and throats to further analyze the virus.
After three, seven, and 28 days, four of the bats were euthanized, and their vital organs were collected for analysis. The scientists also examined their white blood cell count and antibodies. The report on the experiment revealed that the virus was not able to cause a robust infection in the bats. It suggested that the spread of the virus could be specific to certain bat species but not others. Furthermore, existing research had already indicated that a significant portion of SARS-like viruses in bats cannot directly infect humans.
Fast forward to late 2019 when COVID-19 was first reported in China. Since then, there has been much debate about how the virus spread to humans. Some argue that it originated from an animal pathway, while others question whether it was leaked from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China. Dr. Fauci has been quick to dismiss the lab-leak theory and has also stressed that no “gain of function” research was approved during his tenure. Gain of function research involves increasing the virus’s capability to cause harm to its host.
It is worth noting that the bats used in the 2018 project were obtained from the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo near Camp David in Thurmont, Maryland. This zoo has faced criticism from the activist group White Coat Waste for alleged animal care violations. Anthony Bellotti, the president and founder of White Coat Waste, condemned the project, calling it a “real-life horror story.” He claimed that the zoo had shipped bats to the government virus lab overseen by Dr. Fauci to be infected with the coronavirus obtained directly from the Wuhan lab.
As always, the origin and spread of COVID-19 remain contentious issues. However, the 2018 research conducted by the NIH lab in Montana sheds light on early attempts to understand the potential role of bats in the transmission of coronaviruses.