What is the Wuhan Institute of Virology

What is the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

The Wuhan Institute of Virology or WIV is a research institute administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences or CAS that specializes in virology. Located in Jiangxia District, Wuhan City, in the Province of Hubei, it has been regarded as a world-class institution due to its contribution in the fields of virology, immunology, and microbiology.

Note that CAS is the largest research organization in the world, with more than 60,000 researchers and 114 institutes. It has also been recognized consistently for being one of the largest contributors of published and peer-reviewed papers to leading journals.

What Does the Wuhan Institute of Virology Do? What its Specific Research Areas? What are its Major Accomplishments?

Background and Profile of Wuhan Institute of Virology

Purpose and Functions

The institute was originally conceived in 1956 and formally launched in 1958 by renowned virologist Gao Shangyin, microbiologist Chen Huagui, and several other Chinese scientists as a virology and microbiology laboratory under CAS. It engaged primarily in agricultural virus and environmental virus research.

It became the South China Institute of Microbiology in 1961 and was eventually renamed as the Wuhan Institute of Microbiology in 1962. The Hubei Commission of Science and Technology took over administration when CAS lost its local branch institute in 1970, thereafter becoming the Microbiology Institute of Hubei Province.

The institute eventually returned to CAS in 1978 on the eve of the National Science Technology Conference and was renamed the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Today, its mission revolves around improving public health, advancing agriculture, promoting national security through biosecurity, and preventing and responding to outbreak.

Specific Research Areas

Understanding better the functions or tasks of Wuhan Institute of Virology Requires examining its five research focus or fields. Take note of the following:

• Etiology and Epidemiology of Emerging and Infectious Diseases: Established during the outbreak of the SARS-CoV outbreak in China in 2002-2003, this field focuses on studying wildlife viruses based on the understanding that the majority of emerging viral diseases originate from wildlife sources. More specifically, it aims to study the origin and evolution of novel viruses and identify novel viruses with pathogenic potential.

• Molecular Virology: The specific of molecular virology at Wuhan Institute of Virology aims to investigate and understand the different mechanisms of virus replication by studying viral protein, the biology and genetics of viruses and their interactions with their hosts, the molecular mechanism of viral evolution and transmission, and the pathogenic mechanism of acute and persistent viral infection.

• Immunovirology: Researchers at WIV are also focusing on studying mucosal immune response to develop vaccines targeting viral entry and transmission, depicting the network of innate immune recognition and response by pinpointing viral-host gene interactions, understanding immune tolerance and immunopathology of chronic viral infection, and designing antibody-based therapeutics.

• Analytical Pathogen Microbiology: Analytical biotechnology equips researchers with new tools and insights into pathogen research and diagnosis. By focusing on analytical pathogen microbiology, researchers are aiming to develop ultra-sensitive, high-throughput, rapid, real-time and in vivo analytical technologies for solving fundamental scientific problems of pathogen virology.

• Agricultural and Environmental Microbiology: The use of chemical pesticides has become a major environmental concern. Nonetheless, a research rea on agricultural and environmental microbiology strives to identify and screen new bacterial and viral strains with insecticide properties, as well as to investigate the function of specific genes with potentials in biopesticide production.

The institute also has five cross-functional research groups. These are the Center for Molecular Virology, Center for Molecular Microbiology and Nanobiology, Center for Bacteria and Virus Resources and Application, Center for Virus Pathology, and Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases.

In 2015, WIV started the establishment of the National Biosafety Laboratory as part of the Sino-French cooperation agreement on fighting and preventing emerging diseases, as well as of the response from the SARS outbreak. The lab was completed by 2017 with the help of French engineers, and it was the first laboratory in China to achieve Biosafety Level 4 or BSL-4.

Accomplishments and Recognition

Since its inception, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has achieved several breakthroughs, as well as recommendations from the scientific community. Below are some of its major accomplishments:

• The institute made critical progress in the 1980s and 1990s in terms of insect virus, animal virus, molecular virus, virus classification preservation, environmental microbes, fermentation microorganisms, and microbial sensors.

• Note that the BSL-4 classification of the National Biosafety Laboratory of WIV means that it can effectively contain high transmissible infectious agents such as Ebola, Nipah, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever viruses.

• Several WIV scientists have received recognitions from international scientific communities, and others are part of the editorial boards of notable international journals such as the Journal of Virology, PLOS ONE, and BMC Genomics.

• The institute was the first to identify and analyze through genetic sequencing the novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, and upload the sequence to public databases for scientists and institutions around the world to understand.

• In response to allegations that the 2019-nCoV was a lab-engineered bioweapon, American molecular biologist Richard H. Ebright explained that the institute is a world-class research institution with strong ties to Galveston National Laboratory in the University of Texas.

FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES

  • Xia, H., Huang, Y., Ma, H., Liu, N., Xie, W., Song, D., and Yuan, Z. 2019. “Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory User Training Program, China.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. 25(5). DOI: 3201/eid2505.180220
  • Wuhan Institute of Virology. 2019. “About WIV.” Wuhan Institute of Virology. Available online
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