Study on bats | No rules were broken, says NCBS

Govt. had ordered probe into study on bats by U.S., China and Indian researchers

February 04, 2020 10:43 pm | Updated 10:43 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The 2018 Nipah virus outbreak is thought to have originated from bats.

The 2018 Nipah virus outbreak is thought to have originated from bats.

Under the scanner after the government ordered an inquiry 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 National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) said researchers based at the NCBS collected samples of serum from bats and humans. These samples were tested at the NCBS with the technologies supplied by Duke-NUS.

Two of the 12 researchers belonged to the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Department of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the study was funded by the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

The NCBS has said its researchers have been studying bat antibodies in Nagaland since 2012. In 2017, the NCBS and Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School (Duke-NUS) started a collaboration in which researchers based at the NCBS collected samples of serum from bats and humans. “These samples were tested at the NCBS using the technologies supplied by Duke-NUS,” it said.

The NCBS says researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were not directly involved in the study. “They were listed co-authors only because they supplied reagents. This is a standard practice for scientific authorship.”

The published study, however, notes the WIV researchers contributed in writing review and editing.

The NCBS statement further adds that it is not a direct recipient of research funds from the DTRA, which funded the study and no biological samples or infectious agents were transferred into or out of India. The Hindu report, however, does not mention anything about samples being sent out of the country.

Mukund Thattai, head, academics, NCBS, told the media that “there were funds transferred from Duke-NUS to NCBS as part of the joint study”. He said that while the Department of Atomic Energy had approved the study and had “given security clearance to the Duke-NUS collaborator but the ICMR brought to our notice that this still requires a Health Ministry Screening Committee/ICMR approval.”

The paper mentions that funding acquisition was one of the roles of Uma Ramakrishnan from the NCBS, a co-author of the paper.

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