In the spring of 2021, with studies of the coronavirus pandemic’s origins going nowhere and the issue embroiled in bitter partisan politics, David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford, quietly made a request of his congresswoman.

He told his representative, Anna Eshoo, that he was organizing a letter from leading scientists calling for an open and independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 — including into whether it had come from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. He wanted to know if she would publicly endorse the idea.

The outreach worked. As soon as the letter appeared online in the prestigious journal Science, Eshoo became one of the first Democrats in Congress to call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.