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Congressmen Krishnamoorthi and Green Request Information From NIH Director On COVID-19 Sequences Removed From Public U.S. Database At Request Of Wuhan University Scientists

July 9, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressmen Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Mark Green (R-TN) sent a letter to the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Francis S. Collins, to address reports that data on the SARS-CoV-2 sequence was deleted from a NIH database. The Congressmen are seeking a review of this report from the NIH and a more detailed explanation of why this data was possibly removed and what guardrails are in place to protect scientific data.

“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 Congressmen wrote. “However, those scientists requested for some of these sequences to be withdrawn from the database in June 2020, and that request was approved. The reason for removal given to the archive managers was that the data was being updated on another database. Dr. Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, says he recovered 13 missing sequences from Google Cloud files, which may provide insight into the origin of COVID-19 and the possibility that the virus existed prior to December 2019 in Wuhan, China. 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.”

The Congressmen requested that the NIH answer the following questions:

  1. Is the NIH conducting a review of the report that COVID-19 sequences were requested to be deleted from the Sequence Read Archive and why that request may have been granted? In addition, who at the NIH granted the request, and onto what other database was the deleted data uploaded?
  2. 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?
  3. What safeguards does the NIH have in place to protect this and other scientific data it hosts and controls from hostile foreign actors or other nefarious activities?
  4. Are you evaluating archiving measures to ensure that such data removed from similar databases, justifiably or otherwise, is preserved in the future?
  5. What plans does the NIH have to investigate the entirety of the SARS-CoV-2 data sequence to ensure that we have the complete dataset?

In light of the crucial need to investigate the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the transparency and accuracy of the NIH’s Sequence Read Archive is necessary. The Congressmen requested that the NIH Director provide an answer to the above questions by July 14, 2021.

A copy of the letter is available here.