The Black Death and AIDS: CCR5-Δ32 in genetics and history

Cohn, S. and Weaver, L.T. (2006) The Black Death and AIDS: CCR5-Δ32 in genetics and history. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 99(8), pp. 497-503. (doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcl076)

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Black Death and AIDS are global pandemics that have captured the popular imagination, both attracting extravagant hypotheses to account for their origins and geographical distributions. Medical scientists have recently attempted to connect these two great pandemics. Some argue that the Black Death of 1346-52 was responsible for a genetic shift that conferred a degree of resistance to HIV 1 infection, that this shift was almost unique to European descendents, and that it mirrors the intensity of Black Death mortality within Europe. Such a hypothesis is not supported by the historical evidence: the Black Death did not strike Europe alone but spread from the east, devastating regions such as China, North Africa, and the Middle East as much or even more than Europe. Further, in Europe its levels of mortality do not correspond with the geographic distribution of the proportion of descendents with this CCR5 gene. If anything, the gradient of Black Death mortality sloped in the opposite direction from that of present-day genotypes: the heaviest casualties were in the Mediterranean, the very regions whose descendents account for the lowest incidences of the HIV-1 resistant allele. We argue that closer collaboration between historians and scientists is needed to understand the selective pressures on genetic mutation, and the possible triggers for changes in genetic spatial frequencies over the past millennia. This requires care and respect for each other's methods of evaluating data.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Weaver, Professor Lawrence and Cohn, Professor Samuel
Authors: Cohn, S., and Weaver, L.T.
Subjects:R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH426 Genetics
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > History
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing > Clinical Specialities
Journal Name:QJM: An International Journal of Medicine
Journal Abbr.:QJM
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN (Online):1460-2393

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