Reply to Bennett: Why 'HIV' is a misinterpreted 'HERV' 30 March 2005
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Alexander H Russell,

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Re: Reply to Bennett: Why 'HIV' is a misinterpreted 'HERV'

Nicholas Bennett stated: "If HIV is a harmless endogenous phenomenon…Mr Russell has not presented any evidence whatsoever that such a phenomenon is (a) possible and (b) where it comes from."

Regarding 'HIV' (or rather 'HERV'): It doesn't come from anywhere: it is already there (in us) but something has reactivated it. I would argue that all 'retroviruses' are endogenous and harmless. If it is 'endogenous' it obviously means that it doesn't come from the outside but rather has been in the human genome for generations but it is only recently that we have developed the scientific ability to detect it. Bennett must learn to distinguish between the finding of novel phenomena and genuinely new phenomena: what we have wrongly classified as 'HIV' has always been there (endogenous) – so why is 'HIV' only now suddenly causing disease?

Isn't it rather remarkable that 'HTLV-1' and 'HIV' only started causing disease after we had started to study them: wasn't it kind of them to wait to cause disease - until all those desperate, failed cancer researchers - who had staked everything on retroviruses causing cancer - found themselves a new gravy train to keep their labs funded and going.

By the same token, why was smoking only comparatively recently associated with lung cancer when people smoked just as heavily at the end of the 19th century, through World War 1, the roaring 20's, World War 2, the 50's; was there a noticeable increase in lung cancer in these decades? No. Were pushy epidemiologists sleeping during these years?

Retrovirologists should have classified 'HIV' as 'HERV' (Human Endogenous Retrovirus)in the first place. Originally Robert Gallo was against the name 'HIV' and wanted the new name to be 'human retrovirus' ('HRV'). It must be remembered that the nomenclature 'HIV' never had unanimous support from Harold Varmus's Human Retrovirus Subcommittee. Nearly half of the members preferred the compound name, HTLV-III/LAV. Others, including Gallo, Essex and Temin preferred 'human retrovirus' (HRV). I advise Bennett, BMJ Editors and the scientific community to stop using the nomenclature 'HIV' and start using the nomenclature 'HERV' (1). Because 'HIV' is merely a 'HERV'.

Here is a simple explanation why 'HIV' cannot be a highly infectious exogenous entity as Bennett assumes and supposes. Please will Bennett pay us all the curtsey of reading and mastering Peter Duesberg’s seminal paper quoted below then we can be sure we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. Unless Bennett can understand just what the world's leading authority on retroviruses is saying he should refrain from any further comment.

As Duesberg explained in Cancer Reaserch (March 1st 1987), the human genome is littered with innumerable retroviral genomes which lie dormant like so many burnt-out micro-chips; occasionally they maybe stirred into some form of reactivation. What Duesberg does not comment on is if they are reactivated are they then transmissible? I would argue that they are not for several reasons:

1) The number of viral particles expressed is so minute as to be hardly measurable (like 'HIV') so this would not constitute an infectious dose.

2) Duesberg acknowledges that a high percentage of these few viral particles are defective and either a) are incapable of infecting another cell or b) should they infect the cell they are incapable of replication.

3) The Perth Group have shown that mature cell-free retroviral particles shed the outer env gp 120 spikes which in theory are supposed to hook on to the CD4 receptors - thus they are not able to infect another cell. Regarding the alleged 'infection' by 'retroviruses', as far back as 1983, Robert Gallo pointed out that "the viral envelope which is required for infectivity is very fragile. It tends to come off when the virus buds from infected cells, thus rendering the particles incapable of infecting new cells".

From this it follows that if 'HIV' is transmitted at all it is transmitted vertically from female to offspring genetically. Many researchers principally Padian et al have shown the difficulty and virtual impossibility of direct horizontal transmission by sexual means of 'retroviruses' – and indeed no one has ever described in precise detail the supposed method of sexual transmission of 'HIV' – it has only ever been a pure supposition to support a mere hypothesis. Bennett, Noble, Flegg and Floyd have still not provided evidence that 'HIV' is an endogenous sexually transmitted retrovirus. It has been repeatedly shown that no animal lentivirus is sexually transmitted – and 'HIV' is allegedly a lentivirus - so why should it be an exception?


1. Johnson, W.E. & Coffin, J.M. 1999. Constructing primate phylogenies from ancient retrovirus sequences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 96: 10254-10260.


The genomes of modern humans are riddled with thousands of endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), the proviral remnants of ancient viral infections of the primate lineage. Most HERVs are non-functional, selectively neutral loci. This fact, coupled with their sheer abundance in primate genomes, makes HERVs ideal for exploitation as phylogenetic markers. Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) provide phylogenetic information in two ways: (i) by comparison of integration site polymorphism and (ii) by orthologous comparison of evolving, proviral, nucleotide sequence. In this study, trees are constructed with the noncoding long terminal repeats (LTRs) of several ERV loci. Because the two LTRs of an ERV are identical at the time of integration but evolve independently, each ERV locus can provide two estimates of species phylogeny based on molecular evolution of the same ancestral sequence. Moreover, tree topology is highly sensitive to conversion events, allowing for easy detection of sequences involved in recombination as well as correction for such events. Although other animal species are rich in ERV sequences, the specific use of HERVs in this study allows comparison of trees to a well established phylogenetic standard, that of the Old World primates. HERVs, and by extension the ERVs of other species, constitute a unique and plentiful resource for studying the evolutionary history of the Retroviridae and their animal hosts.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared