A comment on the size of cultures used for harvesting viruses. 28 May 2004
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Brian T Foley,
HIV Researcher
Los Alamos National Lab, Los Alamos, NM 87545

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Re: A comment on the size of cultures used for harvesting viruses.

I previously wrote:
“… The Perth group has made suggestions that the Gallo and Montagnier groups both had visual proof that the preparations were studied by EM and found to contain no viral particles at all. I do not know if this is true or not, I would want to hear it from people who worked in the lab with the EM, and not just take the Perth group’s word for it.
…”

The following is from the Tahi interview published in Continuum magazine (1):
“… DTahi: Why do the EM photographs published by you, come from the culture and not from the purification?

LMontagnier: There was so little production of virus it was impossible to see what might be in a concentrate of virus from a gradient. There was not enough virus to do that. Of course one looked for it, one looked for it in the tissues at the start, likewise in the biopsy. We saw some particles but they did not have the morphology typical of retroviruses. They were very different. Relatively different. So with the culture it took many hours to find the first pictures. It was a Roman effort! It's easy to criticise after the event. What we did not have, and I have always recognised it, was that it was truly the cause of AIDS.
…”

In the paper that Chris Tyler cited for showing photographs taken by electron microscopy of the mixture of viruses (Moloney-MuLV and Moloney-MSV), the authors reported harvesting that virus mix from 80 Liters of culture supernatant. That is a huge batch of culture supernatant. I am not sure it was possible, in the early 1980s, to obtain cultures of human T-cells of that magnitude (2,3).

Chris Tyler wrote:
“… RNA Tumor Virus Purification:
VIRUS FLUID [80 litres]
…”

If electron microscopy was the primary method by which viruses are differentiated, and/or if other labs were not able to reproducibly culture HIV-1 isolates from other AIDS patients all over the world, then this discussion about Gallo and Montagnier lacking micrographs of centrifuged virus would be very important. However, all lentiviruses look alike by EM, so serology and molecular methods are in fact far superior to EM for distinguishing viruses. Both Gallo’s group and Montagnier’s group had extensive serological evidence by 1984, and molecular evidence (DNA and protein sequences) in 1985, that their HIV-1 M group subtype B virus was the virus in common to AIDS patients in the USA and Europe.

1. Tahi D.
Did Luc Montagnier discover HIV?
Continuum 1997; 5(2):30-4.

2: Gallo RC, Montagnier L.
The discovery of HIV as the cause of AIDS.
N Engl J Med. 2003 Dec 11;349(24):2283-5.
PMID: 14668451

3: Gallo RC, Montagnier L.
The chronology of AIDS research.
Nature. 1987 Apr 2-8;326(6112):435-6.
PMID: 3550473

Competing interests: None declared