Bubonic Plague, HIV/AIDS, Delta 32

This video is a discussion of what I learned about the connection between these three terms.

A quick reminder of the plague for those of you who might not recall. The plague came from China by fleas. This was a pandemic with serious proportions. This had a mortality rate of almost 100%. It did terrible things to the body and only took a couple of days to completely take your life. During this time, entire towns would shut down and those who could would retreat to the country side – even Sir Issac Newton. The black death would go on to take between 1/3 and 1/2 of the entire population of Europe. It had no mercy.

Then, we have a place like Eyam, England. Someone contracted the illness and the entire town shut down. They got their supplies from neighboring towns who would leave baskets at a point on the road for the citizens to come pick up. After the town had been left alone for a while, it was discovered that they had an unusual amount of survivors. Here are few of the stories that caught researchers interest:

A woman cared for her three sons and husband who all contracted the disease. She fed them, bathed them, sat with them, and handled their bodies once they had passed on. She never contracted it.

A woman was in the process of being taken over by the plague. She had been in bed and deserted by family to die because of how contagious it was. One night, she woke up and ran into the kitchen drinking about a pint or so of bacon fat which she thought was milk – later contributing it to her recovery. She was a survivor.

The only person to collect the bodies of those who died from the plague, a male. He was constantly around it, touching the bodies and moving them. He took care of their funeral arrangements and buried them. He never contracted it.

Fast forward to present day. There were researchers who wanted to learn more about this phenomena. In a world where coming down with the plague meant instant death, survivors are of big interest. They found out that the descendants of those who lived on were still in or near the town. They did some DNA testing and found that these people carried a mutation in their genes that kept them from dying or getting the plague.

700 years ago, Delta 32 showed up as a mutation in the CCR5 gene within the DNA strand. One copy would keep someone from dying and having two copies, one from each parent, would keep them from getting it all together. This was very interesting, the mutation only appeared in Europe during this time. Sort of reminds me of a mutation that would help the case of evolution. This ensured that not everyone died in an overwhelming situation.

Now, let’s go back in time 30 years ago when the AIDS epidemic became plastered in the news. This too is a an almost inescapable death sentence once contracted. Being physically intimate with a person who has HIV/AIDS will most likely result in it spreading to you. Again, almost 100% mortality rate. The bubonic plague and HIV/AIDS attack the body’s cells in similar ways.

So again, we fast forward to modern times with DNA testing. There is a story of a man who during the 70s and 80s was sleeping around quite a lot in California. All of the sudden, his friends and lovers started dying from this unknown illness. Soon, he would find out that AIDS was taking the lives of the people he loved. By all accounts, he should have contracted it himself but never did. After urging from family and friends, he told his story to scientific researchers. They were obviously interested and was able to locate more people with similar backgrounds. Genetic testing had some thought provoking results. As it turns out, all of those taking part in the study carried the Delta 32 mutation.

Scientists are now researching the links and trying to look into the possibility of gene therapy. This therapy would be to try and create the mutation within other people. If an HIV/AIDS infected person took on the mutation, it could save their lives. The impact would be enormous, especially if it could get to people in places such as Uganda where the epidemic has such a major negative impact on the population.

What do you think about this gene therapy? Do you think it should be widespread to test the results? Or is it pointless in the long run because eventually something else will rise out or the virus will evolve to counter act the widespread “cure”? It is a lot to think about and a possible unanswerable question.

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