Frontline’s “The Age of AIDS” & the parallel “The human body is an ecosystem”

Frontline’s “The Age of AIDS” provoked so many emotions, that I felt emotionally drained after watching the program. Incidentally, while watching this wonderful program, another great article in the American Labororatory (May, 2006) jumped out at me…”What Is This Thing Called Me? by Daniel Schneck, a professor at Virginia Tech.

“The human body is an ecosystem” portends Dr. Schneck. “Bionomics” a term coined by Dr. Schneck means the “management” of living things. Moreover, it embraces all “ecological relationships” as they relate to living organisms. So, why is this parrallel important in this context? After watching Frontline’s “The Age of AIDS”, I found myself refering back to Schneck’s article on why the “human body is in a constant state of flux–things coming in; things going out.” To be more exact, Schneck’s collective offering of intracellular interactions and extracellular activity…and finding the delicate balance among of these complex transactions in the human body, gave me an increased respsect for living systems [especially, a complex organism like HIV]. Wherein, this “delicate balance” of these complex transactions across the cell membrane help define this importance.

As many of you are aware, the origins of HIV date back to the African chimpanzee. Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) is a retrovirus that is found, in numerous strains, in primates; the strains infecting humans are HIV-1 and HIV-2, the viruses that cause AIDS.

The origin of HIV is now generally attributed to SIV from African primates. HIV-2 is most closely related to SIV-sm, the SIV strain from Sooty Mangabey. HIV-1 is closely related to the chimpanzee strain of SIV, SIV-cpz. The most likely route of transmission from monkeys to humans involves the contact with the blood of hunted animals. According to Frontline, the first possible case of this transmission may have been in 1959.

In terms of “Bionomics” SIV, HIV-1 or HIV-2 are to be appreciated on ecological levels. Depending who you ask, there are several definitions of ecology. In this context, I prefer this particular definition-“The scientific study of relationships between organisms and their environment. It is concerned with the life histories, distribution, and behavior of individual species as well as the structure and function of natural systems at the level of populations, communities, and ecosystems (McGraw Hill).” This definition, in my opinion is provides a functional “drawbridge” between bionomics and HIV. For example, let’s consider the pathogenesis of HIV. HIV infects CD4 cells. which then desseminates infection. As a result, a specific immune responses are noted: antibody and cell mediated immunity. Finally, there is a gradual loss of CD4 cells and consequently the destruction of the microenvironment of lymphoid tissue (NIH, 2000).

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