The coronavirus pandemic has thrust virologist Shi Zhengli into a fierce spotlight. Shi, who’s been nicknamed “Bat Woman,” heads a group that studies bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), in the city in China where the pandemic began, and many have speculated that the virus that causes COVID-19 accidentally escaped from her lab—a theory promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump. Some have even suggested it could have been engineered there.
China has forcefully rejected such claims, but Shi (pronounced SHIH) herself has said very little publicly.
Now, Shi has broken her silence about the details of her work. On 15 July, she emailed Science answers to a series of written questions about the virus’ origin and the research at her institute. In them, Shi hit back at speculation that the virus leaked from WIV. She and her colleagues discovered the virus in late 2019, she says, in samples from patients who had a pneumonia of unknown origin. “Before that, we had never been in contact with or studied this virus, nor did we know of its existence,” Shi wrote.
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