Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Author: joleen

HIV Origins in the U.S. No Longer a Mystery

A theory aims to find an explanation for a specific phenomenon. For researchers at the University of Arizona, theories surrounding the origins of HIV in the U.S. proved to be an important topic. The topic was so meaningful that they conducted a study which aimed to reconstruct the virus’ history in the U.S.

The newest research was presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), and builds off of previous work done on the virus’ origins. Evidence from the genetic diversity of the DNA samples used in the study supports the conclusion that the HIV-1 strain was brought over from Africa to Haiti, where it became genetically diverse, and then brought over to the U.S. However, even with DNA evidence to prove the virus was present during the 1970s, there are still critics that say this isn’t definitive.

In an online article, Ed Hooper discusses his opposing views on the topic, and highlights a number of different theories which he believes are all still plausible to explain the origins of HIV in the U.S. These theories include:

  1. The HIV-1 virus moved from Africa to Haiti and finally to the U.S.
  2. The HIV-1 virus moved from Africa to the U.S. and was then transmitted to a Haitian counterpart.
  3. The HIV-1 virus moved from Africa to Europe, then to Haiti, and finally the U.S.
  4. The HIV-1 virus was carried by an infected mother, child of a prisoner, and was transmitted via a clinical polio vaccine which had been prepared in the Congo and contained the virus.

Like all highly debated theories not everyone is going to come to an agreement on which provides the best explanation. When beliefs and stigma about a virus like HIV have been deeply engrained into a society it can become difficult to change an individual’s mindset the subject. What will often prove to be solid evidence is the information provided from DNA samples, like the ones recovered and sequenced in this study. Sometimes all it takes is that closer look at solid evidence to make an theory definitive, but the real question can you break away from what you’ve already been taught? Can you you believe it?



Belluz, J. 2016. “This new research rewrites the history of HIV in America.” Vox. Accessed from

Gilbert, M. T. P. 2007. “The emergence of HIV/AIDS in the Americas and beyond.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Accessed from

Hooper, E. 2008. “Michael Worobey’s wobbly research into the early history of HIV.” Accessed from

Worobey, M., et. al. 2016. “1970s HIV-1 Genomes Reveal the Early History of the North American HIV/AIDS Epidemic.” Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. Accessed from

Worobey, M. 2016. “HIV Virology: Putting It All Together.” Accessed from



Four News Stories on the Flint, Michigan Lead Crisis

In each of my three classes this semester the crisis involving lead contamination in Flint, Michigan has been discussed. It is apparent as a health science major that this health crisis causes a lot of commotion within the scientific community. However, it causes an even greater commotion for those who are affected by this event.

To keep up to date with the latest happenings, the professor for my introduction to epidemiology and biostatistics course decided to post links to articles and an online documentary that report on the events that have taken place in Flint. The following listicle provides links to these stories which take on both personal accounts of the crisis and larger theories and ideas that stem from this widely publicized event.


  1. “TIMELINE: Here’s how the Flint water crisis unfolded”
  2. “Not Safe to Drink” Documentary
  3. “Flint, Michigan: Did race and poverty factor into water crisis?”
  4. “Unsafe Lead Levels in Tap Water Not Limited to Flint”

A Time Before Antibiotics

When I get sick, I usually let my immune system fight off the “bug” on its own. However, when the symptoms persist, I find myself rushing to find the right medicine to help me return to a healthy state. I never thought to myself, what would I do if I did not have the proper medicine to eradicate my symptoms? Now that is a good question.

For my first blogpost I chose to write about the first time I learned about antibiotic resistance and how the topic continued to come up throughout my studies as a health science major. While online searching for the latest science articles, I found yet another recently published article on the topic of antibiotic resistance. Instead of focusing solely on the threat of resistance or a new resistant gene that was found, this article takes on a different approach to the topic by discussing how doctors used to treat bacterial infections in a time when there were no antibiotics to do the job.

In the article by Cristie Columbus, various methods for treating bacterial infections in the past are explained in detail. These include bloodletting, leeches, mercury, and herbal remedies. It was believed that the use of bloodletting and leeches helped to maintain homeostasis of the blood by ensuring that blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile were all balanced within the body. For chemicals like iodine, bromine, and mercury they were believed to inhibit bacterial replication killing off the infection. Columbus mentions, however, that researchers now know that these chemicals not only kill bacteria, but also cause harm to human cells and can cause more problems for a person’s health. The last method, herbal remedies, were most often used in liquid forms like tea, and are said to still be used in some ways in present day.

The article acknowledges that not all of these methods were effective in treating cases of bacterial infections, and not all are used today. The article also brings to question, if antibiotic resistance does occur will doctors return to older methods to treat bacterial infections? Although there is no answer to this question at the moment it is both essential and interesting to gain insight into alternative treatment methods and question what the future will hold.



A Mutation to be Wary of

It was during my freshman year dance ensemble rehearsal that I first heard about drug resistant bacteria. Yes, I heard it in dance rehearsal. However, it was not until I took a course on genetics and genomics that I learned about how bacteria become resistant to drugs used to treat and cure bacterial infections. Now three years later, science articles on the topic of drug resistant bacteria continue to haunt global society. These articles make me wonder, what if the best of our antibiotics succumb to resistance? How would we cure illnesses that have the potential to harm and kill?

In an article by Bethany Brookshire “New gene resists our last-ditch drug” she discusses how researchers in China have discovered a mutated gene in pigs, named mcr-1, that is resistant to an antibiotic named Colistin. A drug that is commonly known as a “last resort drug” for patients who are very ill. In the article Brookshire discusses the different ways in which bacteria become resistant, how antibiotic use in agriculture contributes to resistance buildup, the importance of this issue, and briefly gives examples of potential solutions to delay resistance from developing.

There is a lot of fear surrounding this topic. Bacteria live everywhere, and although the presence of some bacteria do benefit humans and animals there are many that do not. When one comes into contact with a bad bacterium it could lead to a poor health outcome. If bacteria can adapt to resist even the strongest of antibiotics known to cure serious illnesses our global health systems may have a problem.

The mcr-1 resistant gene has not yet been found in patients within hospitals, but is resistance an inevitable outcome? Experts referenced in the article say it is not time to “panic” and share alternate ways to handle issues of resistance that may arise. However, the potential for resistance is still there and is apparent in the fears of many including myself and my fellow dancers.



Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)