Lawmakers Push NIH for Answers About Deleted Coronavirus Data

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Their inquiry comes as speculation about the virus’ origins continues to swirl.

A bipartisan pair of Congressmen requested the National Institutes of Health comprehensively review reports that data on the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus—which could prove vital to investigations into the pandemic’s origins—was deleted from a public U.S. database. 

Via a letter penned to NIH Director Francis Collins on Friday, Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., and Mark Green, R-Tenn., pose a range of inquiries into the removal of that data and how the government entity protects the crucial digital assets it hosts.

“In March 2020, scientists at Wuhan University uploaded 241 genetic sequences to the Sequence Read Archive, which is managed by the National Library of Medicine within the NIH,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, those scientists requested for some of these sequences to be withdrawn from the database in June 2020, and that request was approved.”

Following the deletion of that data, Dr. Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said he’d recovered 13 missing sequences from Google Cloud files. Those sequences, according to Bloom’s announcement last month, could provide more details into the origin of COVID-19—including that it may have existed in Wuhan prior to December 2019. NIH confirmed that archive managers were told the sequence data was being updated on another database, and that submitting investigators reserve the rights to their data and can ask for such removals.

But Krishnamoorthi and Green want to know more. 

“Given that the true origin of SARS-CoV-2 remains a mystery, the NIH must fully account for the decision to delete information that could bring the world closer to a conclusion,” they wrote.

Among multiple questions, the lawmakers asked whether NIH is reviewing this matter and can share onto what database the deleted information was uploaded after the withdrawal. They also want to know how the institutes safeguard and preserve data they host from foreign actors.

“Can you rule out the possibility that the deletion of these COVID-19 sequences was done with corrupt intent by the Chinese government or by scientists facing government pressure in China?” the Congressmen further ask. 

They want answers by July 14.

President Joe Biden recently ordered the intelligence community to produce a deep review into the origins of the virus. 

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