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New Evidence on Monkey DNA Debunks Controversial AIDS Theory


New scientific evidence unveiled on Monday appears to undermine a British journalist’s controversial theory that the AIDS virus was passed from chimpanzees to human beings during testing of a polio vaccine in Africa in the 1950s.

Independent tests on samples of the experimental vaccine, warehoused in the United States for nearly half a century, found the DNA of monkeys rather than chimpanzees, lending support to the polio researchers’ claims that they never worked with chimp tissue.

Tests on the vaccine also were negative for signs of simian immunodeficiency virus, the chimpanzee strain of HIV.

“We found no evidence to support the hypothesis of the polio vaccine origin of AIDS,” said Claudio Basilico, professor of microbiology at New York University School of Medicine.

Basilico chaired a committee set up by the vaccine’s creator, the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, to investigate claims that chimp tissue might have been used.

“Does this definitively rule out the vaccine theory? No, but it makes it more unlikely,” he said.

The results, unveiled at a Royal Society conference on the origins of HIV and AIDS, cast doubt on the theory laid out by former British Broadcasting Corp. reporter Edward Hooper in his book “The River,” that the AIDS virus was spread to human beings by researchers using contaminated chimpanzee cells to develop a polio vaccine at the height of a world polio epidemic.

Scientists Identify Gene Variant Linked to Increased Diabetes Risk


Scientists have identified a variant of a gene that increases the risk for type 2 diabetes. The discovery could ultimately lead to new ways to treat the potentially life-threatening condition that affects about 13 million adults in the United States.

Also important to the finding, reported in this month’s Nature Genetics by a team of investigators at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., is the idea that scientists are using the recent gene discoveries to identify susceptibility genes for myriad medical conditions. There are now more than 100,000 so-called single nucleotide polymorphisms, a one-letter difference in the alphabet of a gene.

In the study, Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, Dr. David Altshuler and Eric Lander found that people with a common variant in a gene called PPAR gamma have a 25-percent increased risk for adult-onset type 2 diabetes. This susceptibility gene appears in 85 percent of the population, and the findings from the new study suggest that this SNP may play a role in as m uch as 25 percent of all type 2 diabetics, Hirschhorn said.