In October 2021, CSU's Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology within the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences received a $6.7 million grant from the NIH to construct the new bat vivarium. The remainder of the costs, expected to be between $8 to $9 million, will be borne by the university itself.
This also does not include the "tens of millions of dollars" in annual research grants, some of which involve bats and bat-borne pathogens and diseases, that the CSU receives from the NIH. (Related: Emails show NIH funded gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses.)
The CSU's plan is to build a "Chiropteran Research Facility," which will focus on breeding bats of different species that will then be used as research models to study human viruses that come from bats.
Gargi Duttgupta, the campus planner of CSU, informed local authorities that the new facility would be located about 316 feet north of the campus boundary fence, which separates it from nearby residential communities. It will consist of a 14,000-square-foot standalone bat vivarium.
CSU officials claim the new facility will merely act as an extension of existing work conducted in the campus for over 30 years in collaboration with multiple other institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Agriculture.
The CSU has officially denied that any gain-of-function research will be conducted in the new bat laboratory. However, researchers associated with the facility have previously been involved in such dangerous studies, including some who conducted those studies in Wuhan, China.
Local residents, including a grassroots group called the COVID Bat Research Moratorium of Colorado (CBRMC), as well as other bioweapons experts, also worry about the risks associated with working on deadly viruses and the possibility of a laboratory leak similar to the one speculated to have happened at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which could have led to the release of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Christine Bowman, the leader of CBRMC, has been advocating against the new facility. She and her group have launched initiatives, such as a yard sign campaign, to raise awareness among the local community. However, they claim to have faced resistance from state and local officials and CSU, who have been unresponsive.
Bowman emphasized the need for answers regarding the modification of COVID-19 to enable human-to-human transmission before she can accept the idea of raising diseased bats for research in her neighborhood. The potential connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and a lab leak in Wuhan has led to doubts about the safety of continuing such research.
The biosafety level at which the new facility will operate is unclear. Bowman also raised her concern about the potential increase of biosafety levels without public approval or notification. She questioned who decides the criteria for determining "concern" regarding research.
Additionally, Bowman pointed out that CSU already conducts gain-of-function experiments on plants and mosquitoes, which the university acknowledges in its communications.
She also stated that the chronic wasting disease had leaked from CSU's labs in the past, resulting in the deaths of many deer in the population. While she didn't have specific data to support this claim, she mentioned that it has been widely cited and not refuted by anyone at CSU.
According to Lesli Ellis, Larimer County's community development director, CBRMC members spoke at a meeting of the Larimer County Planning Commission on December 21, 2022, expressing their fears of a possible leak from the new facility and drawing parallels to the suspected Wuhan lab leak. However, the planning commission unanimously approved the project, and no further approvals are required before construction can begin.
Check out Pandemic.news to keep up with the latest news regarding the coronavirus.
Watch this episode of "Naturally Inspired News" as host Tammy Cuthbert Garcia discusses in detail the plan to establish a bat research lab in Colorado.