Archive for February 20th, 2012

The origin of HIV: still so much garbage out there

20 February, 2012

While curating Virology News today, I came across another reprocessing of new that I had come across earlier concerning apparent natural protection of some African female sex workers against HIV infection: this was the intriguingly-entitled “African women’s genitals provide clue to HIV prevention“, in what appears to be an online Nigerian newspaper.

This recapitulates, very accurately, the information I reported in Virology News, which was the subject of a news release following the publication in the September 2011 edition of PLoS One of a study entitled “High Level of Soluble HLA-G in the Female Genital Tract of Beninese Commercial Sex Workers Is Associated with HIV-1 Infection”.  The gist of this is that:

“HIV-resistant sex workers in Africa have a weak inflammatory response in their vaginas – a surprise for the researchers, who were expecting the contrary considering the women’s high exposure to the virus.”

This may lend further credence to the observation that progression to AIDS in HIV-infected people is associated with a state of chronic immune activation – and that SIV-infected vervet monkeys do not exhibit such chromic immune activation, and do not progress like humans do.

What is interesting about the Nigerian article, however, is not what it reports – it is the online comments that follow it.  Here is a selection:

“Was HIV realy discovered in Africa ? Forget the western media propaganda . I have believed , for years , that HIV is a laboratory virus designed for genocide in the thick of apartheid inhuman policies in South Africa .”

“Neither did HIV originate  nor was it perculiar to Africa. It was the creation of the Western countries to stsyematically reduce African population. that the subjects of this study were exposed to HIV virus attests to this fact.”

And my personal favourite:

“So you have already swallowed up the white propaganda that the AIDS virus was first discovered in 1981 in a remote area of central Africa in the green monkey!  A fairy tale, which never explains why prior to its first clinical detection among western homosexual men in the late seventies, no case was found in Africans, and no animal or human population died off in Africa, yet the homosexual population of the west was seriously threatened until their protected sex campaign took off.

You must be unaware that about 35 years ago the Soviet KGB told the world the truth about AIDS….

Jakob Segal, a former biology professor at Humboldt University in then-East Germany, proposed that HIV was engineered at a U.S. military laboratory at Fort Detrick, by splicing together two other viruses, Visna and HTLV-1. According to his theory, the new virus, created between 1977 and 1978, was tested on prison inmates who had volunteered for the experiment in exchange for early release. He further suggested that it was through these prisoners, most of who were homosexuals, that the virus was spread to the population at large.”

What is depressing is that there is just one comment saying “…where HIV started is of little significance now. the issue is that our brothers Africans are the ones affected so we must work hard to find the cure and save our brothers.”

What is obvious is that, even in an environment such as one of the most developed nations in Africa, where intelligent science reporting is happening, the public seems to be alarmingly misinformed about the origin of HIV and predisposed to believe racist conspiracy theories that were debunked years ago.

FACT:
HIV did not come from “green monkeys” and was not discovered in 1981: the virus was described in 1983 and 1984, and HIV entered the  human population in central Africa multiple times, from chimpanzees and possibly also from gorillas, almost certainly via bushmeat – and this happened in the 1930s or even earlier.

FACT:
HIV could not possibly have resulted  from the splicing together of Visna virus and HTLV-1, as no HIV sequence bears any strong resemblance to either virus – and especially not to both of them in different parts of their genomes, as they would be expected to if they were artificial recombinants.  Moreover, the first HIV that has been reliably dated comes from a sample taken in the Congo in 1959.

All of these facts can be easily discovered by a trawl of either the scientific literature, or a first-level digest of that literature by reputable journalists.  All else is fiction…and malicious fiction at that, whether or not such supposed luminaries as Thabo Mbeki believe it.

12th May 2015

ANOTHER note added in response to Timothy Julian, below, who seems not to understand anything about retrovirus and especially lentivirus evolution.  Here is an unrooted radial relationship diagram (aka “phylogenetic” diagram) depicting whole genome sequence relationships between HIV-1, HIV-2, 2 SIVs, Maedi-Visna ad bovine leukaemia viruses, feline and bovine immunodeficiency and human and simian T-cell lymphotropic viruses.  Done by me today from Genbank sequences, using CLC Genomics Workbench ver 7.

Radial tree for retrovirus complete genome sequences

Radial tree for retrovirus complete genome sequences

What it shows is that:

  • there is a distinctive clustering of HIVs and of SIVs, with MVV as a apparently closer relative than the FIVs, in a cluster of lentiviruses that includes BIV – and I note HIV-1 is more closely related to an SIV than it is to HIV-2, and there are three branches to the H/SIV tree ALL of which are internal to MVV and the FIVs and BIV.
  • the H/STLVs cluster together as relatives, with HTLV-1/2/3 being most closelt related to STLV-1/2/3 – which, seeing as the HTLVs are supposed to have derived from the STLVs, is hardly surprising.
  • BLV is only distantly related to the TLV cluster, as is expected given that it is a leukaemia virus but one of a very different species

If HIV-1 derives from artificial constructs derived from FIVs, which are less closely related to  them than is MVV, then is the same true for the whole primate cluster?  Really?  When it is pretty obvious that they are (a) evolutionarily related most closely to one another, (b) evolutionarily diverged to quite a considerable extent?  So were they all made individually??  Then cleverly given to different bush-dwelling primates in Africa?  How desperately unlikely is that??  You appear not to have heard of teh principle of parsimony, which is that the simplest explanation that covers all of the facts is probably correct – which in this case, is that both HIVs and all of the SIVs have a common evolutionary origin, thousands of years ago – and that all lentiviruses also have a common origin, millions of years ago.

Seriously, Timothy: give it a rest.  You know less than Jon Snow.