Following two articles which appeared in The Australian on 25 June 2021 (CSIRO, unis in 10 joint research projects with Wuhan lab and Gain-of-function research risks), as the Chief Executive of Australia’s national science agency it is important your readers have the facts about the CSIRO and our research. Accusations around lack of transparency are both misinformed and offensive to the researchers who have worked to safeguard Australia for the last century.
Since the pandemic began, our researchers have worked tirelessly to help protect Australia. This has included pre-clinical testing of potential vaccines, tracking emerging variants of concern, monitoring wastewater to detect hotspots, and supporting domestic manufacturing and testing of surgical masks. This is in addition to our regular work protecting Australia from a host of other diseases like avian flu, zika, white spot prawn, and foot and mouth disease.
CSIRO has never shied away from talking about its research, including with bats. This research underpins much of our understanding of infectious diseases, and enabled us to help create a successful vaccine to treat Hendra virus. All our infectious disease research is conducted in line with strict ethical, biosecurity and regulatory requirements. All research is fully transparent and publicly available.
Our involvement in bat research was first raised by Ms Markson early last year. On 28 April 2020 I issued a statement (Statement from CSIRO regarding bat research) that acknowledged that research into bats underpins much of our understanding of zoonotic diseases, but that we don’t currently undertake research on live bats at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP).
Like people, bats are mammals, except unlike people, bats can carry viruses like Ebola, rabies or SARS, without becoming sick. Understanding more about the immune system of bats, the viruses they may carry, and how these viruses affect them, holds huge potential for how we might be able to protect Australians.
Infectious diseases need a global response. CSIRO has worked with China, the US and other countries on bat research because bat viruses in Asia pose a threat to Australia. CSIRO also works with the US, Japan, Malaysia, France, Indonesia, India, the UK and PNG on a range of other infectious diseases. All of this is done to help protect Australians from potential future pandemics. The speed of the global response to COVID-19 has been attributed to excellent international scientific collaboration.
The ACDP is internationally recognised as a world class, global laboratory, and is one of Australia’s major defence systems against the increasing threat of infectious diseases. I am proud of the work that our teams at this facility do to keep Australians safe.
As the national science agency, we support the pursuit of knowledge, whether that be by scientists, the public or media, however this reporting is speculative and misleading. The Australian’s readers and our public deserve better.
Dr Larry Marshall
Chief Executive, CSIRO