HIV and Intelligence

This video is from the science of HIV.

This blog post is about the life cycle of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) that illustrates the need to add another universal force to the current four (strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetic and gravitational) namely: Intelligence. That intelligence operates at all levels, including the cosmological. It does not require consciousness or life. It is the anti-entropy force that leads to complexity and the evolution of everything within the universe.

One usually doesn’t think of viruses as having intelligence. Intelligence is more usually associated with animals that have complex brains and nervous systems. In a previous blog post I used the example of a simple bacterial RNA virus, MS2 as an example of the intelligent behaviour of a string of 3569 RNA nucleotides wrapped in a protein shell. I explained how the virus used the ‘noise’ (error-rate) of ribosome translation to orchestrate the timing, the order and quantity of its gene expression. (The flip-side of what is normally considered to be entropy or chaos.)

The life-cycle of HIV is much more complex and with the aid of an animation (see above) we can visualise the interactions of its many components with that of the cell in the life cycle — the manifestation of intelligence at the molecular level..

The back story to HIV

Back in ’60’s Howard Temin, as a research postgraduate student,  worked on an RNA tumour virus, Rous Sarcoma Virus. This virus causes tumours in chickens. Using tissue culture cells, he observed that mutations in the virus caused structural changes in the infected cell. He proposed in his PhD thesis that this RNA virus replicated via a DNA ‘provirus’. This upset the widely held belief at the time of the "Central Dogma" of molecular biology of Watson and Crick -- that the sequence of information flows from DNA to RNA to protein and never from RNA or protein to DNA.

In 1969, Temin showed that RNA tumor viruses carried the enzymatic ability to reverse the flow of information from RNA back to DNA using reverse transcriptase. Reverse transcriptase was also independently and simultaneously discovered in association with the murine leukemia virus by David Baltimore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1975, Baltimore and Temin shared the Nobel Prize of Physiology or Medicine. This group of viruses containing the enzyme reverse transcriptase were classified as retroviruses among which HIV is an important member.

The discovery of reverse transcriptase is one of the most important of the modern era of medicine,  Reverse transcriptase is the central enzyme in several widespread viral diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis B. Reverse transcriptase is also an important component of several important techniques in molecular biology, such as the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, and diagnostic medicine.

This animation, as well as giving the general public some idea of how HIV replicates, illustrates the awe-inspiring molecular intelligence of this virus and is an example of the force of intelligence at work in the universe.