I think of all the people I have ever heard about in my lifetime, the person that has the best job is Dr. Stephen O’Brien who I learned about last night on the PBS show “Secrets of the Dead.” He is a geneticist employed by the National Institute of Health who researches the interplay between specific genes and viruses. He therefore does research in two areas which fascinate me, and which I sometimes wish I had the drive and ambition to have actually made my career, genetics and virology.
On Secrets of the Dead last night I learned about how inheriting two copies of the genetic mutation delta 32 prevented a person from contracting the plague and how people with one copy of the genetic mutation were more able to fight off the disease. The part that is truly amazing is that this same mutation has a similar effect with the HIV virus; inheriting two copies of the mutation means that you have HIV immunity and one copy means that your body will do a better job of fighting HIV infection and will delay the onset of AIDS. It is remarkable. These people that discover these things and research in these areas are amazing. I think right now, it is still a hypothesis (because tests have not been actually devised to bombard plague bacteria cells at cells with the delta 32 mutation), but it is amazing nonethless.
As soon as I watched the show, I wanted to go and have my DNA tested to see if I have the mutation. Interestingly enough, the mutation really only appears with significant frequency among individuals of European descent (along the route through which the plague spread in Europe). This has provoked some pretty entertaining conspiracy theories about the origin of the mutation and the origin of AIDS like this one by some guy Boyd Ed Graves (who appearently has a JD and who believes that AIDS was invented in a Manhattan Project-like experiment upon the orders of Richard Nixon to destroy the African population).
I hope that I am one of the lucky ones with the mutation because in the case of a biological attack using the bubonic plague or in case I decide to become a heroin addict and share needles, then I can breathe a slight sigh of relief.