|Founder||Chen Huagui, Gao Shangyin|
|Headquarters||Jiangxia, Wuhan, Hubei, China|
Secretary of Party Committee
|Gong Peng, Guan Wuxiang, Xiao Gengfu|
|Chinese Academy of Sciences|
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV; Chinese: 中国科学院武汉病毒研究所; pinyin: Zhōngguó Kēxuéyuàn Wǔhàn Bìngdú Yánjiūsuǒ) is a research institute on virology administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Located in Jiangxia District, Wuhan, Hubei, it opened mainland China's first biosafety level 4 (BSL–4) laboratory in 2015.
The Institute was founded in 1956 as the Wuhan Microbiology Laboratory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). In 1961, it became the South China Institute of Microbiology, and in 1962 was renamed Wuhan Microbiology Institute. In 1970, it became the Microbiology Institute of Hubei Province when the Hubei Commission of Science and Technology took over the administration. In June 1978, it was returned to the CAS and renamed Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In 2015, the National Bio-safety Laboratory was completed at a cost of 300 million yuan ($44 million) at the Institute in collaboration with French engineers from Lyon, and was the first biosafety level 4 (BSL–4) laboratory to be built in mainland China. The laboratory took over a decade to complete from its conception in 2003, and scientists such as U.S. molecular biologist Richard H. Ebright expressed concern of previous escapes of the SARS virus at Chinese laboratories in Beijing, and the pace and scale of China's plans for expansion into BSL–4 laboratories. The Laboratory has strong ties to the Galveston National Laboratory in the University of Texas. In 2020, Ebright called the Institute a "world-class research institution that does world-class research in virology and immunology".
In 2005, a group including researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology published research into the origin of the SARS coronavirus, finding that China's horseshoe bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. Continuing this work over a period of years, researchers from the Institute sampled thousands of horseshoe bats in locations across China, isolating over 300 bat coronavirus sequences.
In 2015, a team including scientists from the Institute published successful research on whether a bat coronavirus could be made to infect HeLa. The team engineered a hybrid virus, combining a bat coronavirus with a SARS virus that had been adapted to grow in mice and mimic human disease. The hybrid virus was able to infect human cells.
In 2017, a team from the Institute announced that coronaviruses found in horseshoe bats at a cave in Yunnan contain all the genetic pieces of the SARS virus, and hypothesized that the direct progenitor of the human virus originated in this cave. The team, who spent five years sampling the bats in the cave, noted the presence of a village only a kilometer away, and warned of "the risk of spillover into people and emergence of a disease similar to SARS".
In December 2019, cases of pneumonia associated with an unknown coronavirus were reported to health authorities in Wuhan. The Institute checked its coronavirus collection and found the new virus was 96 percent identical to a sample its researchers had taken from horseshoe bats in southwest China.
As the virus spread worldwide, the Institute continued its investigation. In February 2020, the New York Times reported that a team led by Shi Zhengli at the Institute were the first to identify, analyze and name the genetic sequence of the Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), and upload it to public databases for scientists around the world to understand, and publishing papers in Nature. In February 2020, the Institute applied for a patent in China for the use of remdesivir, an experimental drug owned by Gilead Sciences, which the Institute found inhibited the virus in vitro; in a move which also raised concerns regarding international intellectual property rights. In a statement, the Institute said it would not exercise its new Chinese patent rights "if relevant foreign companies intend to contribute to the prevention and control of China’s epidemic".
The Institute was rumored as a source for the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic as a result of allegations of bioweapon research, a concept that some US experts have rejected, noting that the Institute was not suitable for bioweapon research, that most countries had abandoned bioweapons as fruitless, and that there was no evidence that the virus was genetically engineered. In February 2020, virus expert and global lead coronavirus investigator Trevor Bedford observed that "The evidence we have is that the mutations [in the virus] are completely consistent with natural evolution". On the other hand, even before the outbreak of the pandemic, some virologists questioned whether previous experiments on creating novel coronaviruses in the lab justified the potential risk of accidental release.
During January and February 2020, the Institute was subject to further conspiracy theories, and concerns that it was the source of the outbreak through accidental leakage, which it publicly refuted. Members of the Institute's research teams were also subject to various conspiracy theories, including Shi, who made various public statements defending the Institute. While Ebright refuted several of conspiracy theories regarding the WIV, he told BBC China that this did not represent the possibility of the virus being "completely ruled out" from entering the population due to a laboratory accident.
The Institute contains the following research centers:
The viral sequences, most researchers say, also knock down the idea the pathogen came from a virology institute in Wuhan.