The HIV and "influenza A" virus genomes 28 July 2003
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Christopher J Noble,
postdoctoral fellow
Bern, Switzerland

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Re: The HIV and "influenza A" virus genomes

The reappearence of a 1950 H1N1 influenza A strain in 1977 that Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos specifically referred to is indeed an exception. Phylogenetic analyses have shown that this particular strain evolved at a much higher rate both before 1950 and after 1977. The period between 1950 and 1977 where little genetic change took place is quite clearly an abnormality.

Why does Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos specifically refer to the reappearance of this particular strain of H1N1 rather than other strains that have not shown this discontinuity?

Out of the hundreds of papers on the evolution of influenza viruses why does she choose this particular example?

Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos asks '(i) Since an annual evolution rate of approximately 0.2% in the influenza A virus necessitates vaccine changes every two to three years, how is it possible to have an "HIV" vaccine when there are differences of up to 40% at any given time in the "HIV" genome? (Note that millions upon millions of dollars are being spent looking for such a vaccine)'

Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos is once again extremely confused. Antigenic change in influenza occurs by two different methods: genetic drift and genetic shift. The former is related to point substitutions while the latter is related to the reassortment of whole segments of the genome. The 0.2% per year that I cited is due to point mutations. In contrast it is genetic shifts that necessitate vaccine changes.

'(ii) How can such variation be compatible with the induction of the same biological effects and expression of antibodies which are detectable in a universally applied test?'

This is not true. The antibody tests have been modified precisely because they have failed to detected some cases of infection with divergent strains. The Vironostika HIV Uni-Form II now includes HIV-1 group O specific peptides. (1)

'(iii) How is it possible for differences of up to 40% in the "HIV" sequences to represent the genome of one and the same object?'

Why does Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos continue with this empty rhetorical argument that only demonstrates her ignorance? I have previously given references showing that isolates of HPV show as much as 50% variation at the nucleotide level. Has she read this article? Does she want to deny the existence of HPV?

But why not focus on influenza A as that is one of the examples she has used? The 'H1' in the nomenclature used to describe influenza A strains such as 'H1N1' refers to subtypes of the hemagglutinin gene. The differences between the subtypes H1-H13 is on AVERAGE 51% at the nucleotide level. (2). The hemagglutinin subtypes are all clearly still hemagglutinin. They all perform exactly the same biological function. The different Influenza A strains are all still Influenza A despite the large genetic variations in the hemagglutinin, neuraminidase and non-structural genes.

Will Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos also deny the existence of influenza? She would not be the first so called AIDS dissident to do so. (3)

(1) J. van Binsbergena, D. de Rijka, H. Peelsa, C. Driesa, J. Scherdersa, M. Koolena, L. Zekengb and L. G. Gürtlerb Journal of Virological Methods 60, (1996), 131-137

(2) N. Saitou, M. Nei, Mol. Biol. Evol. 3 (1986) 57.


Competing interests:   None declared