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Not cool Rome, not cool at all.
September 4, 2008 12:46 PM   Subscribe

New Scientist reports today that inhabitants of the former Roman Empire have much lower levels of a gene variant that protects against the virus that causes AIDS - CCR5-Delta32 to be exact. Previously, this genetic mutation had been attributed to the spread of the Black Death.
posted by Lizc (16 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ooh, I saw something similar to this a couple years ago -- there was this one tiny town in England where it was said everyone seemed to have had an unusually high resistance to the plague. Geneticists did testing on the residents whose families had been in this town since those days, and found that they had a particular gene variant. Even more -- the folklore of the town stated that there were some people who just didn't get sick at all, and others who got sick but recovered. Geneticists speculated that since this was a recessive gene trait, that people who got two copies of the variant were the ones who didn't get sick at all, and people who got just one copy were the ones to got sick but recovered.

Then they tested a couple people who had proven resistant to the AIDS virus, and they had this same gene variant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:59 PM on September 4, 2008


Wait..do you mean the COMMUNITY had lower levels? Because I thought that you didn't have LEVELS of genes, I thought you either had a gene or you didn't? Am I stupid?
posted by spicynuts at 1:05 PM on September 4, 2008


I wonder what the advantage of that lack of protection against plague and AIDS is.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:28 PM on September 4, 2008


From the article: Intriguingly, modern people with the CCR5-Delta32 variant are more susceptible to the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. So it's a toss up between AIDS/Plague vs west nile and its mosquito-borne ilk.
posted by GuyZero at 1:33 PM on September 4, 2008


From the article: Intriguingly, modern people with the CCR5-Delta32 variant are more susceptible to the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. So it's a toss up between AIDS/Plague vs west nile and its mosquito-borne ilk.
posted by GuyZero at 1:33 PM on September 4 [+] [!]


VIRUS DEATHMATCH TO THE DEATH CAGE MATCH THIS SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAAAAAAAY!!!!
posted by basicchannel at 1:42 PM on September 4, 2008


I just watched Gladiator film and none of those guys seemed to be infected.
posted by Postroad at 1:51 PM on September 4, 2008


I wonder what the advantage of that lack of protection against plague and AIDS is.

There doesn't need to be an advantage to not having the gene. If lack of protection against plague and AIDS still let people live long enough to make babies, the gene would be perpetuated whether it gives an advantage or not.
posted by stopgap at 1:54 PM on September 4, 2008


Last paragraph: "Intriguingly, modern people with the CCR5-Delta32 variant are more susceptible to the mosquito-borne West Nile virus."
posted by unmake at 2:34 PM on September 4, 2008


So, does this mean AIDS would spread even more quickly if it weren't for the plague? Interesting that the same mechanism would work against the two diseases, assuming it is legitimate causation.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:27 PM on September 4, 2008


mccarty.tim, yeah. There's a very interesting book, Tears of the Cheetah which has a discussion around the likely causative effects around it. Essentially the areas hit hardest by the plague have long-term selected for an immune system that is robust against HIV.
posted by rodgerd at 3:46 PM on September 4, 2008


Often genes that have benefit against one disease cause other problems-- classic example is a gene that protects against malaria, but when you have two copies, you have sickle cell anemia.

And, there can be levels of a gene in a population because that's about what percent of the population has the gene. The individuals either have one copy or two (though sometimes things are more complicated).
posted by Maias at 5:02 PM on September 4, 2008


"Intriguingly, modern people with the CCR5-Delta32 variant are more susceptible to the mosquito-borne West Nile virus."

So people w/o CCR5-Delta 32 are from Mediterranean regions, and are less susceptible to West Nile...well, that makes sense. The Mediterranean was historically a malarial area, and thalassemia is also endemic to the region, anemia at the benefit of somewhat antimalarial. So hell, maybe there were other, now rare/extinct viruses or diseases that were also beneficial to be less susceptible to.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 5:38 PM on September 4, 2008


"Our results show that CCR5 deficiency in mice does not protect against infection or death caused by experimental Yersinia infection, making it unlikely that the CCR5Δ32 allele protects against plague. A modelling study11 reaches a similar conclusion, with smallpox instead of plague being proposed as the disease that selected for the CCR5Δ32 allele."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:52 PM on September 4, 2008


It's nobody's fault, not even the Romans.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:16 PM on September 4, 2008


What have the Romans ever done for us?

Well, there's the plague
posted by atrazine at 3:10 AM on September 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wonder what the advantage of that lack of protection against plague and AIDS is.

Shorter lines at McDonalds.
posted by srboisvert at 6:25 AM on September 5, 2008


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