The theory that COVID-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan has been getting a lot more attention in recent weeks—and so has the lab's most famous virologist. Dr. Shi Zhengli, nicknamed the "Bat Lady" for her work researching bat coronaviruses, has been the focus of much speculation, but she firmly denies that COVID could have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. "I don't know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist," she tells the New York Times. Shi's work involved modifying bat coronaviruses, but she says the lab never carried out "gain of function" experiments to make them more infectious as a way of predicting future outbreaks, but altered them to better understand how they could jump across species. She says the closest virus her lab had to COVID was only 96% identical, which the Times notes is a "vast difference by genomic standards."
Shi, whose team has collected more than 10,000 bat samples from across China, describes accusations the lab has not been completely open with researchers as "speculation rooted in utter distrust" and denies reports that workers at the lab became ill with COVID-like symptoms in November 2019. She says the question of COVID's origins has become so politicized that she has decided to stop investigating it and focus on COVID vaccines instead. But with Chinese authorities refusing to share information on the lab's research with international investigators, speculation is likely to continue, the Times notes. "I’m sure that I did nothing wrong,” Shi says. "So I have nothing to fear.” On Sunday, Group of Seven leaders called for a "timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based" investigation of COVID's origins in China, the Hill reports. (Read more coronavirus stories.)