The majority of the global population believes that HIV originated from cross-species between humans and chimpanzees; however, an opportunistic infection of AIDS had previously been traced in monkeys in the late 1930s, hence more convincing that AIDS originated from monkeys. It was yet to be discovered that HIV was the causative agent of AIDS until 1984 (Thomas 3). However, the mystery of where the virus originated from remained unsolved due to varying propositions suggested by different scientists. Following the emergence and the spread of the HIV-1 epidemic, scientists continued to pursue pathogenicity intensively. Later the first clue was discovered in 1986 when a similar antigenic distinct virus with the same morphological form was found in Western African patients.
Factual experimental data from laboratories already concur that HIV originated from primates inhabiting the African forest. With various such similar pieces of evidence, the habitation of the origin of HIV cannot be debated. The underlying question that still demands scientifically justified evidence is, from what species in the African forest did it originate? This question led to the emergence of six theories that attempted to account for the origin of AIDS. These theories include; isolated community theory or colonialism approach, the 'hunter' theory, green monkey theory, the germ warfare or conspiracy theory, the oral polio vaccine approach, and the contaminated needle-mutation approach (Chopra 2). It is, therefore, essential to examine and determine the degree of validity and relevance of each theory based on its facts and evidence.
Through a chronological era of discovery, HIV was recognized to inhabit humans in 1981 (Hammett 1). In 1982, following the death of a group of gay men in southern California, there was a massive public belief that AIDS was a gay-related deficiency syndrome (Thomas 2). In 1993, doctors reported the discovery of Lymphadenopathy- Associated virus and speculated that it was the possible cause of AIDS. Following an extensive period of research, the scientists were finally able to identify and establish that HIV-1 was a transmission of SIV from chimpanzees (Thomas 7). The 'hunter' theory gives this version of evidence where chimps infected hunters in Western Africa forests through blood contact or chimps meat (Chopra 2). Every time the virus was transmitted to a human, different strain of SIV was produced (Chopra 2). However, it was inconclusive to validate that chimpanzees were the source of the infection without determining how these primates acquired the SIV. In the 1980s, scientists agreed that it was necessary to revisit the 1930 experiment (Karki 16). The investigation had shown slight evidence for immunologic and virologic etiologies that showed the possibility of SIV having originated from the monkeys.
Ground research scientists found out that chimpanzees had hunted and consumed two smaller species of green spot-nosed and mangabeys monkeys. Through the green monkey theory, the scientists suggested that these two monkeys were likely to have had other strains of simian immunodeficiency virus, hence infecting the chimps (Karki 6). The two strains from the individual monkeys joined together and formed a new form of SIV, which was later discovered to inhabit chimpanzees (Avert). The theory precedes the 'hunter' theory, which significantly discredits its validity because chimps hunt these monkeys for food, hence high chances of infection. Hunters immunities were expected to fight off the virus, but due to possible adaptation of the virus in the human host, it hence mutated into HIV-1. AIDS is a disease caused by two lentiviruses categorized as HIV type 1 and 2 (Karki 2). The viruses were as a result of cross-species transmission of the simian immunodeficiency virus. These viruses were observed to affect African Primates naturally. Scientific evidence shows that simian immunodeficiency virus can also be traced back to chimpanzees as well as other primates, which transmitted the SIV to humans. In the human system, the SIV mutated to become HIV type 1 that causes AIDS (Karki 2). However, it is essential to acknowledge that the SIV in chimpanzees was a result of a hybrid virus transmitted from other combinations of viruses from monkeys; hence the initial development of AIDS began in monkeys.
A different version of the green monkey theory asserts that HIV type 2 originated from a crossover from the sooty mangabey monkeys that have SIVsmm (Avert). The crossover was a result of the consumption of monkey meat other than the chimps. HIV type 2 is less infectious than HIV type 1 and is mainly observed in few countries in West Africa, such as Mauritania, Nigeria, and Mali. In these countries, monkey meat is a flesh delicacy, and this hunting has threatened the extinction of these species. Species commercialized imports from major cities such as Paris and Madrid as also linked with West Africa. Statistical evidence showing this extinction tendency is concurrent with laboratory research. The research suggests that AIDs originated from monkeys since the SIV infection is only found in African apes and chimpanzees, which likely indicates that the emergence of primate lentiviruses was a split between the lineage of Asian and African monkeys (Thomas 7). Molecular data have been obtained, and serological evidence of simian immunodeficiency virus infection has also been observed in over 40 species of primates. Most primates harbor SIVs, but the kind inhabiting chimpanzees shows a close resemblance to HIV (Thomas 7). The DNA corresponding to this strain was obtained from the lymph nodes and blood of a female chimpanzee in a primate breeding centre in America. Through an ecological food chain analysis, chimps hunt monkeys, and man eats chimps; hence the HIV was a progressive transmission of mutational SIV, from monkeys, chimps, and humans, respectively.
The colonialism or the isolated community theory was suggested by Jim Moore, a specialist in a primate study. Jim proposed that AIDS originated from a separate group of people during the colonial period (Karki 15). Inadequate sanitization, overcrowding, and malnutrition weakened the human immune systems paving the way for SIV to become HIV (Chopra 2). The use of unsterile needles and prostitution led to the spread of the virus among humans. The theory was supported in the early 20th century. However, the source of SIV alleged to mutate to HIV is not defined; hence the approach is insufficiently conclusive.
The conspiracy theory or the germ warfare theory suggests that HIV was created as part of a biological warfare program by the American military (Geoghegan 2). The program was designed to eradicate black homosexual people and was globally spread either through a smallpox vaccination or hepatitis B vaccine trial in gay men. However, through the 14th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infection held in Los Angeles in March 2007, relevant evidence confirmed that the first HIV case was brought into the U.S from Congo (Chopra 5). A single infected individual visited Haiti in 1966 and became the primary source of HIV in the U.S (Geoghegan 2). The epidemic hence continued to spread rapidly across international borders. The theory cannot, therefore, be assumed to comprise any factual evidence about the origin of HIV.
The contaminate needle theory and the oral polio theory are closely related. They both propose that the source of HIV was ingested into human beings from an external source. The contaminated needle vaccine is viewed as a minor theory since it attempts to explain how the virus was spread rather than its origin. The oral polio theory speculates that the kidney cells of chimps used to make polio vaccines were the source of the infection (Chopra 6). Buck, a Wistar Institute health director in Philadelphia 1992, also confirms that the HIV type 1 had been transferred into the human system through a contaminated polio vaccine that had been transmitted from central Africa during the 1950 expeditions of testing the vaccine (Chopra 6). African chimpanzees were used to test these vaccines. Buck sent samples to three laboratories for testing to trace any possible infection with a precursor of HIV. To avoid media pressure and sustain the research, these laboratories were secretly preserved. Buck admits that the chance of virus detection was slight; the samples had over 40 years and in unknown conditions. Scientists suggested that it was possible to trace HIV from the CHAT oral polio vaccine.
The theory instigated a severe debate that led to intervention by virologists. Despite reports having routed the method of HIV originating from a contaminated polio vaccine, concrete evidence from Edward C. Holmes disapproved of its validity. In his assertion, HIV occurred naturally and was not a result of human errors impacted by sampling biases (Geoghegan, 3). Viruses flourish at certain times and places and can hardly be controlled since they have a life of their own. Therefore, the idea of occurrence through the polio vaccine would have required human intervention and specific environmental conditions. Holmes gave these assertions after an examination of viruses obtained from DRC. The viruses showed a similarity from other strains obtained from different parts of the world. Additionally, Holmes confirmed that Viruses existed in the United States in the mid-1970s together with other illnesses such as cancers and pneumonia, and HIV had already been established to host in humans as early as the 1930s; years before the polio vaccine campaign took part (Geoghegan, 3). These findings were thus crucial since they also confirmed that HIV had a distinctly single geographical origin.
Conclusively, the green monkey theory and the 'hunter' theory are the most significant in explaining the origin of AIDS due to factual evidence that describes HIV as a mutation of SIV. However, through rational and critical analysis of facts presented, SIV is the only factor that distinctly distinguishes these theories would undoubtedly explain the origin of AIDS. A current study from a team in the University of Pennsylvania led by Dr Hahn uncovered the source of HIV that infected chimpanzees (HUTCH). Proteins encoded by APOBEC3 genes called the Vif were compromised by the SIV, causing the host's cell to destroy its protein, hence rendering the host susceptible to infection. The chimp APOBEC3 could block HIV containing Vif from different monkeys but unable to prevent Vif from SIVcpz. SIVcpz were viruses that naturally infected chimps (HUTCH). The virus was prone to cross the species barrier to humans and led to AIDS. Therefore, monkeys are the source of AIDS since, scientifically, monkeys were primarily infected with SIVS for a long time while chimps acquired SIV later. Hence, the virus leapt from monkeys, chimps, and finally to humans.
Hammett, Theodore M., and Roderick T. Bronson. "Unrecognized "AIDS" in monkeys, 1969-1980: explanations and implications." American journal of public health 106.6 (2016): 1015-1022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4880232/. Accessed 11 April 2020
Thomas, Gracious, and M. C. Sharma. "Unit-4 Historical Perspective of HIV and AIDS Epidemic." IGNOU, 2018.
Geoghegan, Jemma L., and Edward C. Holmes. "Evolutionary virology at 40." Genetics 210.4 (2018): 1151-1162.
Chopra, Narendra K., Han Ni, and Richard Lim. "Past Present and Future Status of HIV-AIDS Pandemic Problem in World." Microbiol Infect Dis 3.1 (2019): 1-6.
Karki, Tej Bahadur. Factors associated with increasing the risk of HIV and AIDS in Nepal: Cases from the Kathmandu Valley. Diss. 2019.
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