Daryl Ilbury

Archive for October, 2014|Monthly archive page

HIV. God’s perfect child

In Eish!, Fools, Science on October 21, 2014 at 8:22 am
New studies in Nature and Science describe technology that reveals the motions of proteins on the surface of HIV that are key to the virus’s ability to infect human immune cells. This structure shows the two proteins (in red and gold) and sugars (in green) responsible for mediating HIV’s fusion with its host cells.  Image credit: Nature/Pancera et al.

New studies in Nature and Science describe technology that reveals the motions of proteins on the surface of HIV that are key to the virus’s ability to infect human immune cells. This structure shows the two proteins (in red and gold) and sugars (in green) responsible for mediating HIV’s fusion with its host cells.
Image credit: Nature/Pancera et al.

To those who know me, the title may be a bit misleading; so let me clarify something. I am an atheist, which means I don’t believe in any deities (gods) for the same reason I don’t believe in other storytale entities such as ghosts, fairies, goblins and unicorns. The plural is important, because there are many gods to which people around the world still, unthinkingly, prostrate themselves. This is despite the protestations of adherents of the monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and their multitude of diverse and warring offshoots – who claim there is only one god (which they have arrogantly adopted with the proper noun ‘God’).

So, the title in no way suggests that I have now drunk the KoolAid and believe in the monotheistic ‘God’, and that I believe this god ‘made’ all living entities, including the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. What the title’s designed to do is take a dramatic development in our understanding of the virus, to present a scenario that underscores the ridiculousness of the belief in ‘God’.

And here’s the scenario: Let’s say there is a ‘God’ (in the monotheistic sense) and that this god – a supernatural entity – has testicles. Don’t laugh. This has to be the case, for this god is always referred to in the masculine sense, which has, for centuries, justified the elevation of the status of men over women. Furthermore let’s say this god created the universe (in the dark, apparently), and all living entities therein (the darkness may explain the platypus). Then it makes sense that ‘he’ created not only the pretty things like butterflies and rainbows, but also ‘nasties’ like HIV.

If this is the case, then HIV must be one of ‘his’ better creations, because despite over 20 years of intense research, we are still floundering in our attempts to beat it. Think about that for a minute: It’s just a virus – with no brain – and yet it has evaded the driven, collective minds of thousands of the smartest humans (with their supposed superior brains), for decades.

What they have done though, is help us get increasing glimpses of what makes HIV, arguably, ‘God’s perfect child’. The latest research has shown us how, to evade the body’s immune system, proteins on the surface of HIV ‘dance’, thereby preventing the immune system ‘locking on’ to the virus. This research is important in that, according to Dr. Scott Blanchard, an associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell, and one of three co-lead authors of a study published in Nature magazine, “Making the movements of HIV visible so that we can follow, in real time, how surface proteins on the virus behave will hopefully tell us what we need to know to prevent fusion with human cells — if you can prevent viral entry of HIV into immune cells, you have won”.

Of course, ‘winning’ is still going to take some time, because not only is HIV so ‘perfect’, but humans are so flawed: they still haven’t got the simple fact that if you sleep around without using condoms, you’re sooner or later going to make a nice little home for HIV. Or if they do get it, but still get itthey believe miracles will heal them.

Fools. No wonder they still believe in the supernatural.