Earliest AIDS, Part 3

TRKeske trkeske at aol.com
Sat Feb 28 12:19:19 EST 1998

Earliest AIDS, Part 3

Further investigation continues to raise questions concerning the
supposed case of AIDS in 1959, in a man from the Congo.  There
seems to be a fair amount of contradiction in the data, which
perhaps is suggestive of a propaganda effort to obscure the real 
origins of the epidemic.

This installment will deal with HIV mutation rate.

I had previously posted some material from Professor Jacob Segal
from Humboldt University in Berlin.  Segal was using the mutation 
rate of HIV to argue that HIV could not have existed before the
late 1970s.

I recall that this methodology was ridiculed on one newsgroup,
with the suggestion that is was totally unreasonable to extend
back so far.

It is ironic, then, that in this latest case of supposed early AIDS,
the distinguished Dr. Ho of the Aaron Diamond Research Center
is using the very same methodology, only extending it back even
further, all the way to 1959.

Dr. Ho and Dr. Toufu Zhu argued that AIDS must have originated
around 1959, but could not have existed much before 1959, 
based on the mutation rate [1].  They base this on a "steady"
mutation rate of about 1 percent per year in the genetic material
of HIV.

It is not clear, however, that the mutation rate of HIV is such
a simple matter.  Segal was basing his calculations on a
mutation rate of 10% change every 2 years.  This figure
seemed to be backed up by a 1986 study (Hahn et al, Science

When I researched these two competing claims, I found mostly
confusion.  I saw references to HIV mutation as a million times
faster than similar viruses, and references to the rate as being
"remarkable".  Robert Gallo was quoted saying
that HIV mutated "several times per day" [2].   Much literature
emphasized that the human immune system could not keep
up with HIV, because it mutated too quickly.

One reference cited the mutation rate as one per nucleotide
per 10,000 replications, which HIV having anywhere from
1 to 10 billion virus particles produced daily[3].  The
"1 to 10 billion" figure seems to give a rather wide range.

Oddly, I still found one reference claiming that the mutation
rate of HIV wasn't all that much different than from colds
or flu.

To complicate the matter more, I found a study which 
suggested that the mutation rate of HIV could be
dramatically impacted by drugs, with a 7 to 10-fold INCREASE
in the mutation rate caused by AZT [4].

My net conclusion from all of this that you can't assign
a simple number to be the mutation rate of HIV: the
picture is more complicated.

We have a great deal more to discuss about this 1959
claim, which I am confident will call credibility into

Tom Keske
Boston, Mass.


[1] MSNBC Wire Report, Chicago, 2/3/97
[2] International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care,
[3] Concepts Guiding Anti-HIV Therapy, P.T. Cohen, PhD
[4] Journal of Virology, June 1997, Julias, Kim, Arnold and

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