Thursday, March 08, 2007

Old Papers

Recently a commenter pointed out that Deniers like-- no, LOVE, using papers from the 1980s to support their assertions. Deniers still in grad school were lamenting the fact that they had to, you know, keep up with other peoples research in order to publish themselves (reading is an unbearable burden when youre intellectually lazy). And it got me wondering, whats the oldest paper Ive referenced? I *think* its this one:

Identification of the envelope V3 loop as the primary determinant of cell tropism in HIV-1.

I specifically research this region in Subtype C HIV. Its a real neat stretch of DNA-- in Subtype B HIV, V3 is one of the most variable regions of env ('Variable 3' region), but in Subtype C, its one of the most conserved regions! So you can have lots of fun cutting and pasting various bits of this region into different subtype backbones just to see what happens (of course we're learning about how the viruses work too-- but it helps that its ridiculously fun to see what kind of virus pops out at the end of a cut/paste). And its fun to look at the evolution of the V3 loop in Subtype C patients because it doesnt change very much. Little amino acid changes can really screw around with the virus!

The only reason I can have all this fun is that Im standing on the shoulders of giants that got some essential things figured out early on. Though even I have to admit, this paper was kind of hard to read. Like reading 'English' from the 1800s. They use arcane terms like 'MT tropic' and 'T tropic' viruses, but if I squint and just look at the figures, theyre doing things very similar to what I do 16 years later (good god I was 8 when this paper came out). They cut and pasted various bits of 'MT tropic' and 'T tropic' gp120s together to see if they could make an 'MT tropic' virus a 'T tropic' virus. Lo and behold-- they could do it just by switching out the V3 regions!

In 1991, this was a HUGE revelation. This was a SCIENCE paper! Now? Meh, you mention it and get on with your data, its kinda sad. All novelty in science is fleeting. I suppose the authors consolation is that we have moved light-years ahead of where we were when this was published. I would be honored if something I published became a 'Meh' in hundreds of other papers, so I hope they are too.

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