The Physics Police

The Physics Police

Thursday, February 4, 2016

No, Zika wasn't patented by the Rockefeller Foundation

Conspiracy theorists have been buzzing since a possible link between the mosquito-spread Zika virus and microcephaly became big news.

One particularly laughable conspiracy theory is that the virus has spread in Brazil due to GM mosquito testing in the same area.

First of all, there's no plausible mechanism by which GM mosquito experiments could have caused the Zika outbreak. On the contrary, both GM mosquito testing and mosquito-borne viral outbreak probably share the same underlying cause: the plague of mosquitoes endemic to the general region! The whole point of the GM mosquito program is to combat mosquito-borne contagious diseases like malaria, dengue, and now also Zika. To accuse it of spreading the virus is a particularly dangerous and ugly irony.

Second, the claim that Zika spread from the area where GM mosquitoes had been tested is false. True, both events happened in Brazil, but it's untrue to say they share an epicenter.

Another vicious conspiracy theory is that the virus was patented by The Rockefeller Foundation. This is, if you'll pardon the pun, patently false. Instead of the actual patent application readers are shown a screenshot from a website that sells research samples of the isolated virus online. Under the product's history, we see:
"Name of Depositor: J. Casals, Rockefeller Foundation"
All this means is that the sample was provided by the famous virologist Jordi Casals-Ariet. He discovered the Lassa virus. And he's exactly the person we'd expect to be studying the Zika virus, which is known as an "arboviruses" because it's spread by mosquitoes. Here is a quote from an interview.
"So by the mid 40s you had applied the compliment fixation test to arboviruses, and you had applied the suckling mouse to replication of arboviruses. So you were preparing really, without knowing it, to do a large amount of work in terms of growing viruses, making antigens, and preparing viruses."
The man's a hero. Thanks to work by people like him we have vaccines for many deadly viruses.

What about the Rockefeller Foundation? In 1952 Casals joined the Rockefeller Foundation and worked in a lab where he helped identify viruses sent in from research stations all around the world. Here's another clip from the same interview with Casals.
"We were in New York at the time, at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research where our laboratories, the Rockefeller Foundation, was located. We were the reference, or the clearing house, for all the field laboratories. We were supposed to help them, both by doing tests for them, and at the same time, developing better procedures if necessary, so they could use them."
The "Rockefeller Foundation" is literally the name he called the lab where he worked! The only conspiracy here is doctors and researchers around the world conspiring to learn about deadly viruses in order to better treat human epidemics.

Two of the authors on the paper reporting discovery of the Zika virus have "The Rockefeller Foundation" as their author affiliation. Private funding of basic science has played a vital role in human health.

But why are Zika virus samples sold online? It's common practice for medical research supplies to be sold online. Importantly, the sale is regulated by the CDC. Zika, for example, is Biosafety level 2. Unless you work for a lab that meets these regulations, you won't be able to complete your purchase of Zika.