Thursday, May 25, 2006

Crap Work

Finding a cure for AIDS is a noble scientific endeavour. But like many such endeavours, a lot of difficult and inglorious work must be done before such efforts bear fruit.

Like poking through chimpanzee shit:

RESEARCHERS who picked up and analysed wild chimp droppings said today they had shown how the AIDS virus originated in wild apes in Cameroon and then spread in humans across Africa and eventually the world.
Their study, published in the journal Science, supports other studies that suggest people somehow caught the deadly human immunodeficiency virus from chimpanzees, perhaps by killing and eating them.

"It says that the chimpanzee group that gave rise to HIV ... this chimp community resides in Cameroon," said Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama, who led the study.

"But that doesn't mean the epidemic originated there because it didn't," said Ms Hahn, who has been studying the genetic origin of HIV for years.


Her international team got the cooperation of the government in Cameroon and they hired skilled trackers.

"The chimps in that area are hunted. It's certainly impossible to see them. It is hard to track them and find these materials," she said.

But the trackers managed to collect 599 samples of droppings. Ms Hahn's lab found DNA, identified each individual chimp and then found evidence of the virus.

"We went to 10 field sites and we found evidence of infection in five. We were able to identify a total of 16 infected chimps and we were able to get viral sequences from all of them," Ms Hahn said.

Up to 35 per cent of the apes in some communities were infected. Not only that, they could find different varieties, called clades, of the virus.

How many of us sickened of biology in grade ten because we were too disgusted by dissecting frogs? Let us be thankful for those of us who not only weren't repulsed but were also actually enthralled by digging around in frog guts.

For such are the breed that will one day find the cure for this scourge of sub-Saharan African tribes and San Francisco bathhouses!

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