The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) has hit back at The Hindu after a report published on its website claimed that an inquiry was ordered into a study conducted in Nagaland by researchers from the U.S., China and India on bats and humans carrying antibodies to deadly viruses like Ebola.
The Hindu report further claimed that the study was under the scanner because two of the twelve researchers involved belonged to the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Department of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and that it was funded by the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).
Wuhan is the epicenter of the Novel Coronavirus (nCov) outbreak and speculations have been rife that nCov is a Bioweapon leak and not merely an outbreak of disease. It is further speculated by a great many that the Wuhan Institue of Virology is where the bioweapon was conceived at or leaked out of.
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It seems that The Hindu hurried its report given that the said institute featured in the story and added spicier details such as ‘steeped in secrecy’ despite the fact that it wasn’t in order for sensationalist headlines.
PRESS STATEMENT: Yesterday @the_hindu published an article titled: “Coronavirus : Wuhan institute’s study on bats and bat hunters in Nagaland to be probed”.
The article is erroneous on several counts and we have issued an official statement on the same: https://t.co/MSeGCSmtSG
— National Centre for Biological Sciences (@NCBS_Bangalore) February 4, 2020
In a public statement, slamming The Hindu for its shoddy journalism, NCBS issued a clarification over the matter. NCBS clarified that no researcher from the Wuhan Institue of Virology was directly involved with the study. The statement said, “Researchers at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) have been studying bat antibodies in Nagaland since 2012. The Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases of the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School (Duke-NUS) has been studying bat populations across Southeast Asia, including in Singapore and Cambodia. In 2017, NCBS and Duke-NUS entered into a collaboration in which researchers based at NCBS collected samples of serum from bats and humans. These samples were tested at NCBS using the technologies supplied by Duke-NUS.”
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NCBS clarified that researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were listed as co-authors only because they supplied reagants critical to the study to Duke-NUS, as is the standard practice for scientific authorship. It further made it clear that no biological samples or infectious agents were transferred into or out of India, and this study has no connection with Coronaviruses.
On the claims made by The Hindu with regards to the funding of the study, NCBS clarified that it is not a recipient of DTRA funds. Duke-NUS receives funding from the DTRA and hence, it finds a mention in the study. It also said that documentation regarding this study is transparently and freely available in the public domain.
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NCBS said that such studies are necessary as bats are a major reservoir of novel zoonotic diseases, which are infectious diseases that can jump from animals to humans. Nipah, Coronavirus, and Ebola are examples of some of these diseases. It said, “It is important to understand where outbreaks are likely to occur ahead of time, so resources can be rapidly mobilized when required. An important part of this preparedness is to characterize the natural types of immune-system antibodies that are prevalent in wild populations of bats. This is especially important where bats come in close contact with humans, as is the case in Nagaland due to traditional hunting practices.”
NCBS also urged the media and all stakeholders to only obtain information from reliable and verified sources as the spread of misinformation and panic could be devastating during a global health crisis. The Hindu’s track record on issues of grave importance has been constantly irresponsible. It appears that beyond the realm of politics, they have started indulging in spreading misinformation during a potential global pandemic as well.