Pre-AIDS Chimp Discoveries

Jay Mone jaymone at paonline.com
Sat Feb 19 22:50:30 EST 2000


It shouldn't be too surprising to find a huge amount of work done 
investigating every conceivable aspect of chimpanzees, since they are one of
our closest evolutionary relatives.  Much has been learned about human
physiology from chimp models.  Just as important, major differences between
chimps and humans have also been noted.

While their has been much work with chimps, the actual numbers of chimps
used in research has been relatively small.  This is mainly due to (1) the
endangered status of chimps; and (2)  the tremendous expense of using chimps
in research.

Chimps, however, are not endangered because of biomedical experimentation.
Rather, it is due to habitat encroachment and active hunting which has
driven this species (and many others) closer to the brink.

Now, about those differences between chimps and humans.  One of the more
interesting ones is the fact that chimps are not susceptible to disease
following infection by HIV-1 or 2.  This might have been expected, if
indeed, chimps were the source of HIV-1.  Fifty percent of African green
monkeys (Cercopithicus aetheops) are infected with SIV, and do not show any
signs of illness of any kind as a result of the heavy viral load.  It
appears that the host and the virus have come to an evolutionary
understanding, undoubtedly after many years.  if HIV came from chimps, then
one might expect the same relationship to exist, since it would be the most
beneficial to both the chimp and the virus.  The same thing may eventually
happen with HIV and humans, that eventually the relationship between us and
the virus might drift towards commensalism rather than parasitism.
While retroviruses have been known for many years, primate retrovirology was
a late-comer.  The argument that HIV should have been discovered many years
sooner has one glaring flaw:  It wasn't until the late 70s that culture
systems were developed to allow for long term growth of lymphocytes.  Bob
Gallo (ever heard of him?) discovered IL-2, which is essential to the
maintenance of lymphocytes in culture, and you can't isolate a lymphotropic
virus unless you can grow the host cells in culture.  Again, Tom, you fail
to do your homework.

Jay Mone'
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