Submission to Nature

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Edward Hooper, submission to Nature, May 2001, not published.

Dear Sir,

I have returned from two months' research in Africa to find four brief correspondences published in "Nature" and "Science" [April 26, 2001] which, it is claimed, finally pour cold water on the oral polio vaccine (OPV) theory of origin of AIDS. Robin Weiss's accompanying commentary concludes: "some beautiful facts have destroyed an ugly theory". The reality is rather different, for these communications provide no relevant "facts", new or otherwise, and no disproofs.

The paper by Eddie Holmes' team concludes that there was a single introduction of SIV from chimp to man, and that this occurred before the feeding of CHAT vaccine in central Africa in 1957-1960. Yet, like all phylogenetic reconstructions, this is entirely theoretical - a fact which he (and Weiss) glide over. In reality, given the gaps in the fossil record, and the very real possibility that recombination events may have occurred early in the history of HIV-1 Group M, there is no way of reliably determining whether there was a single or a multiple synchronised transfer, or dates for same. None the less, it is useful to have Holmes's confirmation that, as the OPV theory has long maintained, the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Belgian Congo) is " a likely location for the origin of HIV-1 Group M" - an awkward detail for those, like Beatrice Hahn, who hypothesise that the ancestral chimpanzee SIV comes only from the common chimps living in "west central Africa", in countries like Cameroon and Gabon.

The three papers which find no evidence of HIV, SIV or chimpanzee DNA in samples of CHAT pools 13 and 10A-11 from the fifties are also wrongly interpreted. As I wrote (perhaps not clearly enough) in "The River", and as I have repeatedly pointed out since, notably at the Royal Society "Origins" conference, what matters is not the testing of a specific pool number, but the testing of those CHAT batches which were prepared for use in Africa. (Weiss confuses this issue by wrongly describing CHAT 13 and 10A-11 as "batches", not "pools".) To date, such crucial tests have not been done. The tests conducted thus far show only that selected samples of CHAT vaccine fed in Europe and North America between 1958 and 1962 were SIV-free, and not made in chimp cells.

The inacurracies and exaggerations in the commentaries, news stories and press releases accompanying these four brief communications further confirm that on this most sensitive of issues there has been an interesting inversion, with the doyens of science seeking to "prove" their ideas through sound-bites, while ignoring or subtly misrepresenting much of the evidence documented in "The River". Professor Weiss invokes "beautiful facts" which do not exist. There are, however, new facts available about the OPV theory, and these will be published in due course.


Edward Hooper, Bridgwater, Somerset