IN her new book, Dark Winter, renowned global biosecurity expert Professor Raina MacIntyre hides what would be called “easter eggs” in video games – nuggets of knowledge that leave the readers with plenty to think about.

Released tomorrow, Dark Winter: an insider’s guide to pandemics and biosecurity is a history of pandemics, a warning about the state of the world’s virus holdings, and a primer for what we need to do to protect ourselves from future pandemics.

One such easter egg leaps off the page ahead of all the others.

Was the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 manufactured?

A major discussion point in the book is the ethics of gain-of-function research.

“Gain-of-function research is a subset of dual use research of concern,” Professor MacIntyre told InSight+ in an exclusive podcast.

“To begin with, dual use research of concern applies to any technology that can be used for benefit, but also for harm. It might be robotics or artificial intelligence or biological technology, where the primary purpose is to benefit humanity, whether it’s for medicines, vaccines for agriculture, for defence or for other types of purposes,” she said.

“The same technology can also be used to harm humanity. So, gain-of-function research is where you engineer a pathogen to confer on it properties it didn’t gain naturally.”

The controversy began to hit the headlines in 2012, when two groups of scientists did gain-of-function research on avian influenza viruses, which are not naturally contagious between humans.

“Humans can die from avian influenza – usually they’re people who’ve been poultry handlers or otherwise working in very close contact with sick or dead birds,” Professor MacIntyre told InSight+.

“These research groups took these avian flu viruses and repeatedly passaged them through ferrets, which are a good human proxy, because they have the same makeup of the respiratory tract receptors.

“When you passage a virus repeatedly through a species, you help it to adapt to that species.

“In this case, the virus was conferred with properties that made it suitable for human-to-human transmission. When the virus picked up those characteristics, it became easily transmissible from humans to humans.

“They’ve taken an avian flu virus that is not transmissible easily between humans and conferred on it pandemic potential,” she said.

Big question: why?

“Their arguments were that it helps with making vaccines against a pandemic, should it arise, and should it be the same virus as the one they engineered,” said Professor MacIntyre. “As we know you can never predict what virus is going to naturally emerge. There’s no way you could predict the virus and make a vaccine for it.”

The avian flu gain-of-function research polarised the scientific community. One group was adamant gain-of-function research was essential and that the future of humanity was at stake. Another group, including Donald Henderson, who was one of the leaders of smallpox eradication, cautioned against it and against publishing the methodologies in scientific journals where anyone could access them.

“For a period of time, there was a moratorium on that kind of research, initially in 2011, but there was a lot of pressure after that,” Professor MacIntyre told InSight+.

“There was so much pressure that by about May 2012, that [moratorium] was overturned, and the papers were published. And that was it – the gates were open. Hundreds, if not thousands of [gain-of-function] papers, have been published since.”

Has gain-of-function research been done on coronaviruses?

“Oh, absolutely,” said Professor MacIntyre.

“Ever since SARS first occurred, scientists have been fascinated with the virus and, since 2014, plenty of groups were doing that kind of research and on other viruses too.”

In September 2021 Professor Paul Bieniasz and colleagues from Rockefeller University in New York published a paper in Nature. Here’s what Professor MacIntyre wrote about that research:

“As Bieniasz told NPR, ‘the goal was to answer the question: Is it possible for SARS-CoV-2 to completely evade neutralizing antibodies?’ In order to explore this question, Bieniasz and his team engineered a mutant version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to make it resistant to vaccines. They took about 20 mutations that occurred already around the world, but never together, and engineered a ‘polymutant spike mutant’ – in other words, they showed how to make SARS-CoV-2 resistant to vaccines. Two months later, by November 2021, the Omicron variant had emerged, which had most of the 20 mutations Bieniasz and team published with open access methods, plus more.”

Dark Winter, page 77

Can we conclude that Omicron was manufactured?

Professor MacIntyre does not say so specifically in Dark Winter, but she told InSight+:

“In the book, there are some things that I don’t say. I’ll just call it easter eggs – there are easter eggs in the book and people who are switched on, following the topics, can read between the lines.

“That’s all I’ll say.”

Dark winter: an insiders’ guide to pandemics and biosecurity by Raina MacIntyre is published by NewSouth Publishing and will be released tomorrow, 1 November 2022.

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The original SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in Wuhan, was the result of a lab leak, either deliberate or accidental
  • Strongly agree (45%, 209 Votes)
  • Agree (18%, 81 Votes)
  • Strongly disagree (14%, 66 Votes)
  • Neutral (12%, 56 Votes)
  • Disagree (10%, 48 Votes)

Total Voters: 460

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10 thoughts on “Gain-of-function research and the origins of Omicron

  1. Andrew Tuntable says:

    For a summary of the evidence for and against a lab leak causing SARS=2 see

    Macintyre cannot discuss this elephant in the room because it would damage her academic career. That type of self censorship is very dangerous.

    The origin is important because we do not want this to happen again. And nothing of significance will be done to reign in reckless research unless the origin is acknowledged.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “ A mature attitude, a scientific attitude, an ethical attitude – would be full open discussion of all relevant facts.”.

    Exactly right. So why not a full an open discussion, and instead things not said but hidden like Easter eggs.

    It has much less to do with ego defence, cognitive dissonance and haughty criticism.

    Obviously objective scientific research needs to explore the causes of the pandemic, as has been done. This includes the context of lab leaks which have historically happened many times. It is a pity this book and the discussion of it is so incomplete.

  3. Elizabeth Wirtz says:

    It seems the capacity for good and bad actors re germ warfare exists. The omicron development appeared to be a more benign virus that if caught, death was far less likely and natural immunity likey.
    In other words a mass immunisation strategy that was hard to evade due to its rampant infectiouness. Bad actors of whom it’s possible to generate some other variant that renders current natural immunity ineffective, must counter the fact that they themselves would also be vulnerable. Unless of course they devise an antidote in advance that may protect ‘chosen ones’. This would be hard to manage and no guarantee that rival bad actors may also do the same. If Omicron was devised to save most, it appears that the good has prevailed for now. Thanks be for that.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Interesting phrase “conspiracy rubbish”? Seems like an ego defence to deal with cognitive dissonance and existential fear that research and guidelines for that research might be less than trustworthy or perfect.

    For goodness sake – why is it not possible to discuss the fact that dangerous Gain of Function research, manufacturing pathogens to be more infectious and/or dangerous to humanity has been going on for years?

    And what is wrong with acknowledging that it has been highly controversial for the obvious reasons that can be seen in several SciFi and Dystopian thriller movies and books going back to Alistair MacLean’s ‘The Satan Bug’ of the 1960s or even to Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein”?

    The GOF research is a reality, it’s not a figment of anyone’s imagination! There has been fierce debates by experts in the field, published in Nature and other major journals, as this article mentions. That’s historical reality too.

    The real problem is the tip-toeing around, the walking on egg shells. The haughty criticism that even discussing it is going down rabbit holes or on wild goose chases. Why? Because such discussion is deeply disturbing. But that is no reason to go into denial and projection.

    A mature attitude, a scientific attitude, an ethical attitude – would be full open discussion of all relevant facts.

    It could start with discussion of the published papers of GOF of bat SARS Coronaviruses in the Wuhan Institute of Virology – metres from the epicentre of the pandemic – that was done by Dr Shi Jenghli of the WIV. And that such research was in collaboration with Dr Ralph Baric of University of North Carolina, and Dr Peter Daszak of EcoHealth. The latter whose group’s article in The Lancet condemned any mention of the lab leak possibility, and who despite what would seem a conflict of interest, led the WHO investigation into the viruses origin in China.

    It does sound like a movie/book script. But these are real life facts.

    Given the devastation wrought by the pandemic and the lockdowns (as the Independent Review has outlined and reports of economic effects in the UK and elsewhere) – to not discuss if GOF is behind the worldwide loss of lives and livelihoods – would be faint-hearted dereliction of scientific and medical ethical duty.

  5. P Langton says:

    For readers interested in more background on the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, I suggest this article.
    You can make your own assessment.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Information on gain of function research, including by NIAID in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, has been known for years and on SARS coronaviruses for at a least 2 and a half years.

    Articles have been published in the reputable journal Nature, and by the NIAID itself:

    Why has it taken the mainstream medical establishment (and it’s journals) so long to allow an honest discussion on COVID?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Response to “Anonymous”:

    I don’t think you could call the author disreputable.

    More likely she has been cautioned by legal advisers about possible defamation.

    I have not always agreed with Prof MacIntyre in regards society’s actions/lockdowns towards Covid, although her expertise in such matters far exceeds mine, but whether you think it is a conspiracy or not it should not be dismissed out of hand.

  8. Anonymous says:

    What a difference two years makes.

    Insight (and many other outlets) would have rejected this article as utter Trump-ist nonsense back then.

  9. Ian Hargreaves says:

    A dispassionate alien observer might well conclude that the principal purpose of science was to kill humans. No other field has progressed so rapidly, and I am at a loss to think of any scientific discovery/invention which has not been ‘weaponised’.

    There is no collection of Nobel Laureates to match the Manhattan Project, neither Genghis Khan nor Alexander the Great had the power of Joe Biden or Vladimir Putin, to destroy most of the world with a single command. Of course, it was Nobel’s industrial explosives which turbocharged the industrial revolution, accelerating global warming.

    Unfortunately, as Robert Oppenheimer belatedly realised, scientists are political fools in assuming that the better weapons they manufacture, will be used to fight for good.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Really? The MJA should know better than to peddle conspiracy rubbish. Easter eggs??? A reputable author would be upfront and just say what they wanted to say but won’t. Somehow we’ve heard this approach before.

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