A site run by a friendly and reasonably honest woman I know recently reposted a text titled “The Man Who Created AIDS: Robert Gallo.” The text went super-viral, over 80,000 shares on Facebook alone. Once I read it, I was aghast at how much misinformation and how many scientifically illiterate statements were in the text and attached video. I wrote her explaining my reasoning, and she immediately agreed to take down the text. It still exists on other, less responsible, sites.
Unfortunately, a large part of the damage has already been done, and that among other articles has helped foster the continued existence of a completely unfounded theory based primarily on not understanding what a patent is in molecular biology.
A patent on Ebola or HIV is not the same as a patent on an engine. Whereas the engine’s patent is reserving the production of that type of engine to the patent holder, a patent on HIV or Ebola is a patent meant to specify how the virus was isolated, how the genotype was determined, and what this consensus genotype is. In biology, you can patent things you found to concretely identify that component, potentially for use in a more complex system later. Keep in mind that you can even patent seeds obtained from cross-pollination: the patent does not mean the species was genetically modified in a laboratory.
The same way a patent on cross-bred species does not mean it was created in a lab, a patent on a virus genome does NOT mean it was created in a lab. Robert Gallo first published his isolation and identification of HIV in 1984, and patented this in 1985. After older blood samples were then analyzed in a search for this virus, it was then found in the past: it didn’t suddenly occur in the 1970s or 1980s.
Despite the claims of the article whose damage I am working to undo, the earliest samples of HIV positive blood did not originate from New York homosexuals from the 1970s, but instead date back to 1920s Congo. The virus most certainly did not originate from biological weapons programs, which are only today becoming advanced enough that creating such a virus is even theoretically possible. They were most certainly not advanced enough in 1920, or even 1960, to create a synthetic retrovirus, which I might add, has still never actually been accomplished.
One of the articles I saw blaming Gallo comically claims that chimps were supposedly deliberately infected and released in 1979, which somehow led to the virus occurring in New York in 1971. The viral “Gallo did it” article that I convinced my friend to take down had an embedded video, where a man “explains” over dramatic music that HIV was created through “combining lymphoma, leukemia, and carcinoma viruses.” I literally burst out laughing, because none of what he listed was a retrovirus or even a virus, and cancer has literally nothing to do with HIV. You could spend your entire life combining lymphomas, carcinomas, and leukemia, and you would still never end up with a retrovirus at the end.
All of these theories make very specific claims, without any evidence. They encourage me to believe that a man (who thinks cancers are viruses) has special knowledge and access to untold classified documents. To prove his point, the video displays extremely blurry documents that are barely legible beyond seeing Gallo’s name. For all we know, these documents are completely fake, or actually completely harmless. We don’t know, because as is the norm in such articles or videos: no sources are supplied.
Yes, the United States did and maybe still does have biological weapons programs. The Soviets did, and Russia still runs its “Vector” high-security lab, as well. This is absolutely no indication that HIV is a bio weapon, especially considering the actual time-line of infections. There are even more reasons why Ebola is certainly not a bioweapon, but that is beyond the scope of this text. Gallo was a scientist, and a researcher, and his position in the public eye is yet another reason to doubt him being an evil mastermind.