February 1999


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Corey Hardin <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 08:23:57 -0600
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        I was turned on to this list by a subscriber who saw my posts on
another activist list about the recent research on HIV origins. I hope it won't
seem too forward if jump in with my first post here.
         I have been somewhat distressed to see people insist on discussing the
origins of the HIV virus as a political topic. Where the virus crossed the
species barrier is manifestly not political, it is a simple, biological fact. I
can assure you that the virus was not making any sort of statement by making
that cross-species leap in Africa. Of course, we must learn more from African
scientists, and we must be vigilant in our opposition to racist interpretations
of an African origin for this particular virus, but we must not abbandon sound
epidemiology. Leftists are justifiably critical of right-wing nuts who draw
political conclusions from the epidemic ( God hates gays and the like), so we
must hold ourselves to the same intellectual standards.
        I encourage everyone to read the actual research report before they
comment on what evidence it does and does not contain. In fact the article
concerns the phylogenetic analysis of SIV from four chimpanzees, all born in
the wild. While it is true that all retro viruses are closely related it is
possible to be a good bit more quantitative than that. SIVcpz strains from the
four chimps are tightly clusterd (in a phlyogenetic sense) with all known
circulating strains of HIV-1. Furthermore, the viruses are more closely realted
to each other than to other SIV strains. Finaly, HIV-1 group N was found to be
a recombinant of HIV and the relevant SIVcpz sequences implying a past
co-infection of a chimp with both HIV-1 and SIVcpz. As I see it, there is only
one possible conclusion.
        In closing, may I suggest that the offensiveness of suggesting an
African origin for HIV is , in part, a result of viewing HIV in isolation. It
is not the only pathogen which has ever crossed the species barrier. Syphilis
evolved in the new world, creating great havoc in Europe after the invasion of
America. Small Pox first emerged in the old world. New influenza strains
regularly emerge in Asia. If we object to the African origin of HIV on
political grounds we are implying that a population which is first infected
with a virus is somehow to blame for it. Even if you accept this absurdity at
least take it all the way. If Africans are to blame for HIV, then Native
Americans are to blame for syphilis, Europeans for small pox, and Asians for
influenza. Pretty soon you would realize that there is plenty of blame to go

        -Corey Hardin


University of Illinois
Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology,
and Medical Scholars Program
A540 Chem & Life Sciences Lab
Box 35-6
600 S. Matthews
Urbana, IL 61801
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