Earliest AIDS, Part 4

TRKeske trkeske at aol.com
Sun Mar 1 17:52:05 EST 1998


EARLIEST AIDS, Part 4

This is continuing along with the discussion of questionable
aspects in the claims of a 1959 AIDS case in the Congo.

* FURTHER NOTE ON MUTATION RATE

I forgot last time to mention one other problem that I see in
the claims of early AIDS, in consideration of a steady and
rapid HIV mutation rate.

Francois Simon and colleagues at the Centre Pasteur in France
recently reported finding a strain of HIV that seemed halfway
between the human and ape version of the virus (i.e., between
HIV and SIV).  This was from the blood of a Cameroonian 
woman who died in 1995 of AIDS [3].

This presents a slight problem.  If I understand correctly,
a rapid and CONSTANT mutation means that you are
statistically likely to move further away from SIV,
never back closer to it- much like an egg being likely to
break, but never to jump back together.  Also, a constant
mutation rate means that you will not simply sit still,
with some strains remaining unchanged for long periods.

If this finding is true, then the scientific community would 
seem to have a need to reevaluate one of two hypotheses:
either HIV is younger than they think, or there must have
been multiple crossovers between species- an idea which
currently not supported by a consensus of the scientific
community.

Dr. Ho and his team are suggesting that all 10 subtypes
of HIV began with a single species jump, about 50
years ago.  Dr. Simon's finding would not seem to fit in
with this.

I would like to note that in general, an extremely high
rate of mutation tends to be regarded as a measure
of instability, and a sign of a YOUNG virus.   I believe
that the high mutation rate should decrease in time 
(I am looking for more sources on this).  I may attempt
some calculations, but it seems to me that if HIV 
originated before 1959, given its high mutation rate,
we would have more than the 10 subtypes by now,
and they should have been detected earlier.

* CONTAMINATION

Some newsgroup readers protested that it was far-fetched to
imagine that the claim about 1959 AIDS might be the product
of sample contamination.

These readers probably do not appreciate one of the ironies in
this episode.  The study of the 1959 Bantu man from Leopoldville
was conducted primarily by Dr. David Ho.

This is the same Dr. Ho who refuted an even earlier study that
claimed a case of 1959 AIDS, involving a sailor from Manchester,
England.  This was not just a matter of being unable to duplicate
the results.  Dr. Ho specifically said that the Manchester case
showed evidence of CONTAMINATION, that entered the sample
"long after" the man died [1].

Drs. Ho and Tuofu Zhu that the 1959 sample contained DNA
sequences essentially identical to a strain of HIV that was
circulating in the late 1980s.  In fact, the researchers concluded
that the tissues examined were "derived from at least two
individuals" [2].

Contaminated, yes, but contaminated how?  By whom?  The
researchers, being scientists and not politicians, in their
innocence, do not speculate on many possibilities.

Mind you, these are blood samples being studied for 
possible HIV, and are therefore potentially infectious.
They have to be handled VERY carefully.  If you 
peruse through some of the regulations and guidelines
of our government, and in typical universities, you
will find that they are voluminous, detailed, picky:
how you handle things, sterilize things, what you
wear, how you label things.  When they specify
disinfecting germicides that are acceptable, they go
right down to the level of how many parts per million
of free available chlorine must be present.

Remember that this Manchester case of supposed
1959 AIDS was accepted as fact for 5 years before
Dr. Ho refuted it.  Dr. Corbitt, the researcher who
published the Manchester study was indignant at
the suggestion of contamination.  So impossible did
it seem to him, that he characterized it in London's
daily "Independent" as a "calculated hoax or a
mammoth error".

Yet, in another bizarre twist, Corbitt himself later
admitted publicly that contamination had occurred.
In the 9/97 issue of Lancet, the British medical journal,
Corbit and fellow researcher Andrew Bailey admitted that
the virus in the original sample was a modern strain.
They accepted responsibility for the probable contamination.

Accepting the responsibility is noble, but were they really
this careless?  There are few researchers who would even
conceive of more sinister sources breaking into their
lab with the same boldness that Nixon's CIA spooks
used in breaking into Daniel Ellsberg's office or into
the Watergate complex.

If it were deliberate contamination, it would have been
very incompetent contamination.  However, even
bungling spooks can learn from their mistakes, and
do it right the next time.  Not even our best scientists
could understand exactly what they were seeing, 
what had confused them.

Tom Keske
Boston, Mass


Sources:

[1] MSNBC Wire Report, Chicago, Feb. 3
[2] Emerging Viruses: AIDS & Ebola, Leonard Horowitz
[3] Reuters, "Sample Traces Earliest HIV case to 1959",
     2/4/98






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