David Artavia posts on The Advocate: HIV is apparently even older than scientists thought. Previous research had suggested retroviruses, the family of viruses that include HIV, were around 60 to 100 million years old, and may have even co-existed with dinosaurs. New research from Oxford University now shows they are much, much older; 450 million years or older, predating dinosaurs and even land itself. (Retroviruses really deserve an “older than the hills” designation, as they emerged from earth’s early oceans.)
In the new analysis, published in Nature Communications, Dr. Aris Katzourakis from Oxford University’s Department of Zoology argues retroviruses “have originated together with, if not before, their vertebrate hosts in the early Paleozoic era.” In a statement, he added, “Furthermore, they would have been present in our vertebrate ancestors prior to the colonization of land and have accompanied their hosts throughout this transition from sea to land, all the way up until the present day.”
Little had been known about the ancient origin of retroviruses because there are virtually no fossil records to study. They are microscopic and often bloodborne, neither of which tended to draw our attention, even if they did fossilize. In the past, fossil hunters tended to look for bones. Big bones.
In case you didn’t know, HIV is part of a family of viruses called retroviruses, which also include various kinds of cancers and immunodeficiencies. The reason for the “retro” is because they are made of RNA, which then converts into DNA, thus becoming part of a host’s genome. As a result, they can be tracked through historic fossil records.
Researchers took genomic fossils found in various hosts, including ray-finned fish and amphibians they’d not discovered before. But the key conflict in researching such evolutionary history was diverting past the virus’s rapid evolution, which is always tricky.
According to Nature, the researchers used “new mathematical techniques to calculate the age of an ancient line of retroviruses called foamy viruses, which infect species ranging from lemurs to fish, the researchers worked out that retroviruses first evolved between 460 million and 550 million years ago.”
“[Retroviruses] date back to the origins of vertebrates,” Dr. Katzourakis added, “and this gives us the context in which we should consider their present-day activity and interactions with their hosts. For example, we need to consider the adaptations that vertebrates have developed to combat viruses, and the corresponding viral countermeasures, as the product of a continuous arms race that stretches back hundreds of millions of years.”
Ironically, it was also discovered by researchers that retroviruses played an important role for our bodies to adapt immunity from other viruses. So despite the fact that they gave us fatal kinds of diseases, they also built our bodies’ mainframes to combat other kinds of sicknesses — a catch 22. Pervious studies have found that 8 percent of the human genome consists of retroviral elements, although many of them now inert.
-Read more on The Advocate
Three times as many bus parking permits have been requested for the Women’s March on Washington, DC, than for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, city councilman Charles Allen told BuzzFeed News.
As of Thursday, when Allen held a hearing to review inauguration preparations, 393 charter bus permits had been requested for the inauguration on Jan. 20. In comparison, a week before President Obama’s inauguration in 2012, about 900 bus permits had been requested.
Allen, who serves as chairman of the Council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, said all 1,200 available charter bus parking spaces at RFK Stadium, the city’s largest bus parking area, have been filled for the Women’s March on Jan. 21.
“While the demand for bus parking seems significantly less than for previous inaugurations, the District is well prepared and will be ready for all visitors and guests making their way here,” Allen said.
When Leah Aguilera was held in a special section of the Santa Ana City Jail in California for transgender people, who were being detained by immigration officials, she experienced a delay and pushback for her request for hormones and disparaging remarks for being transgender.
“The only thing I was thinking is that I want to get out. I really want to get out,” she says. “I was getting in, like, depression. I didn’t know how long I was going to be there.”
Aguilera, now 24, spent more than a year in the country’s first immigration detention facility with an official separate housing unit for transgender detainees. She was detained in 2015 and released last year.
The federal government will open another such facility next week, if everything goes according to plan. This time, it will be in Alvarado, Texas, about 40 miles southwest of Dallas. It’s concerning advocates in the state, but city officials say the facility will help their local economy.
About 700 migrants are expected to be housed at the Prairieland Detention Center, including a separate 36-bed unit for trans individuals. The center will be operated by the private prison company Emerald Correctional Management LLC, based on a five-year contract after which the city will vote again to decide if they want to continue their partnership.
Clint Davis, city manager of Alvarado, says there hasn’t been much local opposition to the detention center and the trans unit. He says the community’s response has been positive, and that more than 200 jobs are expected to be created within their city, which has a population of about 4,000 people. Alvarado is part of Johnson County, which has about 4 percent unemployment, according to the latest Department of Labor data….
Aguilera and others say they are concerned about this new facility for transgender people because of what happened in Santa Ana. After an outcry from advocates and neighbors, the city decided not to renew its contract with the federal government to house immigrant detainees. The transgender unit is expected to close in 2020.
Christina Fialho is the co-executive director of CIVIC, an organization that monitors the conditions of about 40 detention centers across the nation. She says the Santa Ana transgender unit was created in response to problems LGBT migrant detainees were facing while in confinement. In 2011, 13 asylum-seekers from across the country filed a complaint that stated detainees suffered from sexual assault, long-term solitary confinement and denial of adequate medical care while detained with the general population (PDF).
But the problems, Fialho says, continued in California’s transgender pod. She says Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not protect trans women in confinement.
“We received reports of trans women who are told by guards to use their male voice and act male on an almost daily basis,” says Fialho. “Even more horrific is the sexual assault that occurs throughout the immigration detention system, including at the Santa Ana City Jail, in the form of unlawful and degrading strip searches.”
She also says they were still not receiving their hormone therapy medication on time and says there were delays in the transfer of detainees’ medical records.
Jorge Molina, an immigration attorney in Dallas, says the Department of Homeland Security reached out to him and other local lawyers and civil rights groups in May to form a kind of advisory committee to ensure the Texas facility does not meet the same fate as the Santa Ana one.
-Read more on Towleroad.com