HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

Posts Tagged ‘electron microscopy of HIV’


Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/01/17

It seems astonishing that hordes of virologists, immunologists, and other biological scientists should be wrong about HIV/AIDS. It is even more astonishing that HIV/AIDS researchers do experiments without caring whether the substances they are working with are pure.

Etienne de Harven, pioneer in the electron microscopy of viruses and Emeritus Professor of Pathology, University of Toronto, discussed in his address to the European Parliament [HIV HAS NEVER BEEN ISOLATED FROM AIDS PATIENTS, 15 January 2008] the failure of HIV/AIDS researchers to purify what they call “viral isolates of HIV”. Electron microscopy revealed that these “viral isolates” are motley mixtures of bits and pieces of various shapes and sizes; see “Cell membrane vesicles are a major contaminant of gradient-enriched human immunodeficiency virus type-1 preparations” (Gluschankof et al., Virology 230 [1997] 125–33); “Microvesicles are a source of contaminating cellular proteins found in purified HIV-1 preparations” (Bess et al., Virology 230 [1997] 134–44).

Phyllis Pease, emeritus in medical microbiology from the University of Birmingham, discusses in some detail the fact that “supposedly pure HIV as prepared by standard techniques for the isolation of retroviruses employed since 1970 [has been] without the benefit of essential electron microscopy controls” (p. 128, “AIDS, Cancer and Arthritis”, ISBN 0-9550567-0-5; see comprehensive review by Neville Hodgkinson at

“Viral isolates” of “HIV” are whatever happens to be in the band of density 1.16, when a source thought to contain “HIV” is ultracentrifuged in a sugar gradient. Below is a tracing of electron micrographs published by Bess et al.; for easier identification, some of the microvesicles are colored green, some of the supposed virions are in blue, and some of the motley debris is in red. The lower micrograph is of a more highly purified preparation than the upper (see Pease, p. 129), yet still shows the presence of a variety of contaminants.


Not only are these mixtures of all sorts of things: when Pease measured the purported retrovirus particles (see p. 131 in her book), she found that their sizes spanned a wide range (70-225 nanometers). Purification had increased the proportion of virus-like particles, but clearly they are not all the same, as virions of a given species would be.

The astonishing, well-nigh incredible yet inescapable conclusion is this:
The “HIV” that researchers work with is a motley mixture of various kinds of intracellular particles (vesicles) and bits of cellular debris, in which there may or may not be present some particles of a putative human immunodeficiency retrovirus, and possibly other viruses as well

This remarkable circumstance explains immediately several peculiar characteristics supposedly unique to HIV and that have made it so intractable a thing to deal with:
— No two HIV isolates are exactly the same. “Within a single HIV-1 infected human host, HIV-1 population represents a complex mixture, or swarm, of mutant virus variants, in which all viruses are genetically related yet virtually every virus is unique” (Lukashov et al., “The genetic diversity of HIV-1 and its implications for vaccine development” in AIDS Vaccine Research, ed. Wong-Staal & Gallo, chapter 3, at p. 93).
Of course! Every time researchers make a preparation of “HIV”, they are working with a different and possibly unique mixture.
— HIV is said to mutate at a rate far exceeding anything observed with other biological entities.
Not at all. Every time researchers make a preparation of “HIV”, they are working with a different and possibly unique mixture.
— Every attempt at preparing a vaccine against HIV has failed totally.
Naturally. One can’t vaccinate against motley mixtures of variable composition.

How do HIV researchers respond to the charge that their “viral isolates” are not pure HIV?

Whenever possible—which is most of the time—they simply ignore it, even since the cited articles, published in 1997. However, ignoring is not feasible if one is on the witness stand in a court of law, as Robert Gallo was (via telecommunication) at the Parenzee trial in South Australia. Here are extracts from the transcript of his testimony, which is available in full at

Once we could mass-produce this virus, that’s purification. If you have a tonne of something and you contaminate it by a drop of water, didn’t you purify it? It’s the ratio of cell protein to viral protein. Sucrose gradient gives you a little bit of help but you could do that five times and it’s not going to purify as much as we did by mass-producing it. To use the extreme hyperbole, if you have a tonne of some something and a drop of water, you’ve purified it. That’s what we did. (Emphasis added; p. 1278, lines 1–9):
. . .
We succeeded in putting six of the 48 isolates into permanent culture, meaning in a cell line, in a leukaemic cell line that, itself, doesn’t have virus particles, and the virus comes out in great quantity and forever, thus making purification already accomplished. But, of course, we also use banded virus by sucrose gradient which they make a case out of we never did. You don’t publish that. Of course we did, but it isn’t needed and wouldn’t be needed if you could mass-purify it. But, for other purposes, we did it. (Emphases added; p. 1278, lines 25–35).”

This is no inadvertent mis-statement, Gallo repeats it (Emphases added; pp. 1281, lines 21–37):

“people use great quantities of mass-produced virus which by itself is purified virus. You are not being told that either because they don’t understand it or they don’t know; I don’t know. It has gone through a far greater purification than any banding can produce. The blood test that became available to people who knew how to do it came from mass-produced virus, originally from in Frederick, Maryland. The genes now have been cloned. We started in publications in 1984 throughout 1985 which showed that each of the proteins you pick up with Western blot is coded by one of the genes of HIV or another. Therefore we know those proteins come from HIV and, when a patient’s serum reacts with them, we know that patient, untreated, will almost always get AIDS. You can’t get science any better or anything more definitive.”


Most scientists, I dare say most thinking people, would be astonished at Gallo’s assertion that if you have a large enough amount of something then it doesn’t matter what else is present. Perhaps he was aware of that when he made the disingenuous comment about “a drop of water” not being a contaminant, when the actual contaminants are an unholy mélange of things. Yet even a drop of water can ruin an experiment if that drop contains the tiniest bit of the wrong sort of substance.

Solid-state physicists had observed in the mid-1930s the phenomenon that led—but only 3 decades later—to the transistor revolution in electronics. During those 3 decades, the phenomenon could not be reproduced—because of the unknown and therefore uncontrollable presence of varying traces of impurities in amounts too small to be detected by then-available methods.

Much of my own work in electrochemistry had to do with a method known as polarography. Its discovery stemmed from a strange phenomenon whose very existence depended on the presence of impurities in amounts too small to be detected by any then-available means, something realized only some 5 decades (Bauer, “Streaming maxima in polarography”, Electroanalytical Chemistry, 8 [1975] 169-279). The sensitivity to impurities was so great in large part because polarography depends on reactions at surfaces. The tiniest amounts of impurities in a solution may accumulate at surfaces to produce tangible effects. Many processes that depend on catalysis are surface reactions. The ubiquitous enzyme reactions in biological systems are essentially catalytic surface phenomena: the reacting substance has to fit precisely onto the surface of the enzyme. Contaminants in biological systems can ruin experiments and vitiate entirely any claimed results.

It beggars belief that a scientist would ignore the relevance of possible impurities in biological research or attempt to down-play the possible significance of impurities.

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Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/01/15

Etienne de Harven, MD, is Emeritus Professor of Pathology, University of Toronto; he has been a member of the Sloan Kettering Institute (New York) and was on the AIDS Advisory Panel set up by President T. Mbeki in 2000. He has special expertise in electron microscopy; already 4 decades ago he published electron micrographs of the Friend leukemia virus.

On 8 December 2003, he addressed the European Parliament on “Problems with isolating HIV”. That address has never previously been published in English, and I’m delighted and honored that he was willing to have it posted here. Professor de Harven’s contact information is:
“Le Mas Pitou”, 2879 Route de Grasse, 06530 Saint Cézaire, France;
e-mail; Tel or Fax (33) 4 93 60 28 39



How can we best help Africa? How can we set priorities aimed at bringing under control what is described as an AIDS epidemic? For twenty years, all AIDS research has been based on the HIV hypothesis. Do we now have reasons to question this hypothesis? Yes, because there is a major problem with isolation and purification of HIV. The major problem being that, in spite of innumerable claims to the contrary, this retrovirus has never been isolated nor purified in a scientifically acceptable manner that would satisfy the classic requirements of virology.

To demonstrate the problem’s magnitude it appears necessary to compare current results on HIV with those obtained, previously, in experimental pathology, on another retrovirus known to be significantly associated with a particular leukaemia of laboratory mice, the Friend leukaemia. Both retroviruses, i.e. the Friend leukaemia virus and the HIV hypothetically related to AIDS, share extremely similar morphology under the electron microscope, have identical diameters, and sediment at the same density in sucrose gradients. A direct comparison between isolating and purifying these two different retroviruses is, therefore, entirely appropriate.

Mice suffering from the Friend leukaemia have considerable numbers of retroviral particles in their blood stream. This phenomenon, described as “viraemia“ in the past (1), would be called “viral load“, in today ’s terminology. From only a few ml of the blood plasma of leukaemic mice, the viral particles could be readily separated by a simple technique of ultrafiltration, then sedimented by high-speed centrifugation and finally prepared for electron microscopy. The results are illustrated in the first slide.


On this electron microscope image, a uniform population of virus particles is clearly recognized. They all have the same diameter and morphology, and one has to look very carefully to identify rare, non-viral structures, attesting to the high degree of purification of these retroviral particles. Such samples of purified retrovirus were successfully used to identify viral proteins and to extract viral RNA. The method applied to achieve this purification of a typical retrovirus is rapid, inexpensive and highly reproducible.

Most surprisingly, nobody has ever succeeded in demonstrating HIV particles in the blood of any AIDS patient by this simple method, even though patients were selected for presenting a so-called high “viral load” as determined by PCR methods. This embarrassing lack of electron microscope evidence for substantiating the nature of the so-called viral load in AIDS patients was first reported during an important AIDS conference that took place in Pretoria, S.A., in May 2000 (2). None of the AIDS experts present at that conference could demonstrate the presence of retroviral particles in the blood of AIDS patients. Moreover, almost two years ago, a substantial award ($100,000) was officially offered (3) to anybody who would demonstrate HIV particles in the blood of allegedly high viral load patients. Two years later, the award has still not been claimed. Obviously, what was so readily and reproducibly demonstrated in leukaemic mice has never been observed in any AIDS patient.


Over the past 20 years, the medical literature has been inundated with innumerable papers, attempting to dodge the lack of electron microscope evidence for the presence of retroviral particles in samples directly collected from AIDS patients. In all these papers, the missing retroviral particles have been swiftly substituted with so-called HIV “markers”. These “markers” were of physical, biochemical, or genetic nature.

Physical markers.
As known for a very long time, classic retroviruses identified in chicken, mice and cats, all share the same shape and density, and therefore sediment at exactly the same level during high-speed centrifugation in sucrose gradients. Actually, they all sediment at the density of 1.16 gm of sucrose per ml (4). The alleged HIV being classified as a retrovirus, it was logical to expect it to sediment at that same density.
However, as was also well known years before the emergence of AIDS, a large variety of cellular fragments and debris also sediment at that density (5, 6). Collecting material sedimenting at that density does not, therefore, demonstrate the isolation of retroviruses, unless a careful control by electron microscopy rules out any contamination by cellular debris. The importance of these essential controls was stressed during a conference that took place in Paris, in 1973 (4). Most surprisingly, in the same laboratory of the Pasteur Institute, then years later, in 1983, a paper was published (7), in which these controls were missing. It appeared later (20), however, that these controls were attempted but gave discouraging results. Still, in the title of that paper, “isolation” of a new retrovirus, the future HIV, was announced. Dramatically enough, this is the paper that placed AIDS research on highly questionable tracks for the following two decades.

Biological markers.
In 1970, Temin (8 ) and Baltimore (9) discovered the activity of a so far totally unexpected enzyme in allegedly purified samples of experimental retroviruses. This enzyme was called “reverse transcriptase” because it induces DNA synthesis from RNA templates. It was indeed a fundamental discovery that revolutionized molecular biology. This enzyme activity was first observed in RNA tumour viruses and was, therefore, initially thought to represent a characteristic “marker” of these viruses which, consequently, received a new name: “retroviruses”. Ever since, reverse transcriptase activity has been used as a “marker” for HIV…

However, shortly after the publications by Temin and Baltimore, it was discovered that reverse transcriptase activity was not restricted to “retroviruses” but was in fact a most common phenomenon in biology (10, 11), as reviewed by Varmus in 1987 (12). Unfortunately, and yet again, Temin and Baltimore omitted to verify the purity of the viral samples on which their observations were made. Consequently, any contamination of these samples by cell, bacterial, or mycoplasma debris could just as well have explained the presence of the reverse transcriptase activity observed by these authors. In 1983, the Pasteur group based their claim for the isolation of a new retrovirus primarily on 1) the detection of reverse transcriptase activity in 2) material sedimenting at the density of 1.16 gm/ml. These two criteria completely lose significance if the data are not verified by electron microscopy to exclude possible interference by non-viral contaminants known to be frequently present in allegedly “purified” retroviruses (5, 6).

Several proteins, allegedly of viral origin, are frequently used as “specific” HIV markers, p24 for example. Doubts concerning its specificity have been expressed for a long time (15). The complete lack of agreement between results obtained with p24 and measurements of “viral load” obtained by PCR were recently stressed (13). Surprisingly, in Western blot tests, 40% of sera from dogs reacted positively with proteins obtained by genetic recombination technology, such as gp120, gp47, p31 and p24 (14). This had to be expected since Eleni Papadopoulos, Val Turner and the Perth Group had initially, extensively demonstrated the total lack of specificity of all the alleged HIV structural proteins in a paper, published 10 years ago in Nature Biotechnology (15), a fundamental paper that was completely ignored. To cite only key examples, gp41 probably corresponds to actin, and gp120-160 are likely oligomers of gp41. Evidently, cell debris contaminating very poorly purified retroviral samples may also readily account for the presence of alleged retroviral markers, and frequently reported “successes” in HIV “isolation” most likely result from faulty reliance on non-specific “markers”.

Genetic markers and measurements of “viral load”.

This approach could seem more attractive for two reasons: 1) it applies directly to a patient’s blood, therefore avoiding all the uncertainties of complex cell cultures, and 2) it is supposed to be a quantitative method.

However, as already stressed, it has never been possible to visualize any retroviral particle by electron microscopy in the blood of AIDS patients, even though these patients are selected for having a so-called very high “viral load” (2). Moreover, it appears very likely that PCR methods amplify small RNA fragments, more frequently observed under conditions of stress and of chronic illnesses (16), and which include retroviral segments originating from human endogenous retrovirus [endogenous = originating within the body, native to the human genome, not from external source]. This is not surprising since about 2% of the human genome has marked homology with the retroviral genome (17). Consequently, “measuring” the “viral load” by PCR methods is likely to have no relationship whatsoever with real quantification of a hypothetical exogenous [having a cause external to the body] HIV viremia. Kary Mullis himself, Nobel Prize laureate for his discovery of the PCR method, categorically rejects the use of “his” method for quantitative measurements of a hypothetical HIV viremia (18 ).

The abuse of… beautiful pictures.

The “viral load” of newspapers and magazines, all over the world is extremely high, meaning the number of pictures of HIV published almost daily in the world’s press. These pictures are extremely attractive, and are frequently rich in artificial colors. They clearly exemplify the danger of misinforming the public with computer graphics. To publish such images brings to the attention of the general public, and of the medical profession as well, an apparently crystal-clear message: “Yes, HIV has been isolated since one can portray it under the electron microscope”.


All these images are computerized rationalizations and embellishments of actual electron microscope pictures similar to those illustrating, for example, Barré-Sinoussi’s paper (7). But not one of these pictures originated directly from one single AIDS patient! They ALL originated from complex cell cultures prepared in various laboratories (19), cultures that have been described as “real retroviral soups” (20). Indeed, everything was done to make sure that retroviral particles (and the celebrated budding forms) would appear in these cultures. Not done were the essential verification experiments that could have clarified the endogenous origin of these viruses. Even if these control experiments were done, their results were apparently never published. We are still waiting for a newspaper that would publish beautiful computer graphics of HIV and would have the honesty to explain to their readers that all these still have to be confirmed with samples originating directly from AIDS patients.

In AIDS research, most of the cell cultures used are mixed and hyper-stimulated.

Mixed, because they contain, for example, lymphocytes from a patient plus the H9 cells from Gallo’s lab, cells well known to be chronic carriers of retroviruses (21). Or, as in the Pasteur Institute case (7), lymphocytes from an AIDS suspected patient plus lymphocytes isolated from umbilical cord blood that originated in the placenta and known since 1979 (22) to be likely to carry human endogenous retrovirus.

These cultures are hyperstimulated with one or two growth factors such as phytohemagglutinin (PHA), T cell lymphocyte growth factor (TCGF), interleukin2, or corticosteroid hormones. All these factors are known to activate the expression of endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), which are defective viruses that may acquire envelopes and bud on the surface of cells activated by these factors. Presumably, this is exactly what happened when cord blood lymphocytes were activated with PHA and TCGF in the Pasteur 1983 experiments (7). Unfortunately, the control experiments needed to verify this interpretation remain to be done.

In short, it seems that electron microscopy was not used when it was essential to demonstrate the absence of contaminating cell debris in allegedly purified virus preparations, and misinterpreted when stimulated cord blood lymphocytes showed budding retroviruses.


Indeed, HIV has never been properly isolated, nor purified, and, consequently, the HIV/AIDS hypothesis has to be fundamentally reappraised (23, 24, 25, 30, 32).

More precisely, without purification of HIV, HIV-specific antigens could never have been rigorously identified (15). Still, so-called HIV antigens are instrumental in all the serological tests allegedly identifying specific HIV antibodies—ELISA, Western Blot, and more recent rapid tests such as “ Capillus”, “Determine”, and “Vironostika”. Recombinant DNA technology for “viral” antigens certainly yields purer products, but fails to make up for the missing specificity. No surprise, therefore, that dozens of different medical conditions, including tuberculosis, malaria, leprosy, multiple blood transfusions, many vaccines, multiparity, etc. all give false-positive “HIV” tests (26).

Retroviral particles have unquestionably been observed, not directly in AIDS patients, but in mixed, hyper-stimulated cell cultures (7). They most likely represent forced expression, in cell cultures, of human endogenous retroviruses (17), whose hypothetical role in the etiology of AIDS has never been proved.

The HIV particles, missing from the patients, have been conveniently substituted by molecular “markers”, because the HIV=AIDS hypothesis had to be saved at all cost (see the Durban Declaration, 27), even at the price of scientific integrity (28 ).

If AIDS were indeed caused by a retrovirus, how can we explain that 20 years of considerable research efforts, based exclusively on that single hypothesis, have failed to isolate the responsible exogenous retrovirus? Twenty years to end up with no curative treatment, no vaccine, and no verifiable epidemiological predictions.

Obviously, time is pressing us to ask courageously the essential question, namely, is the HIV=AIDS hypothesis correct? Because it is entirely possible to view AIDS differently, outside the field of infectious diseases, and outside the field of retrovirology (29). And in this perspective, which is replete with optimistic predictions, all the difficulties encountered in attempted isolation and purification of the hypothetical HIV may find an extremely rational explanation. Indeed, doubts concerning the very existence of HIV are nothing new, and were expressed by several dissident scientists several years ago (30, 31). I completely share these doubts. Let us not forget the title of Peter Duesberg’s book (33) published in 1996: “Inventing the AIDS Virus”.
Consequently, priorities for medical assistance to sub-Saharan Africa should, most urgently, be revised as follows:

— Treat all endemic tropical diseases with their specific treatments.

— Stop all use of antiretroviral drugs until the isolation of HIV and its pathogenicity are scientifically established.

— Stop using highly crossreacting serological tests, the HIV specificity of which is far from demonstrated.

— Provide African people with clean drinking water, proper housing and sanitation, efficient health-care infrastructures, and means to combat malnutrition.

Thank you.

References (the URLs below are no longer active)

(1) de Harven E. Viremia in Friend murine leukemia: the electron microscope approach to the problem. Pathologie-Biologie 1965; 13: 125-134. See also de Harven E., Pioneer deplores “ HIV”, Continuum 1997; 5 #2: 24.
(2) de Harven E. Summary statement. Interim Report of the AIDS Advisory Panel, Pretoria, SA, May 2000. Published by the Government of South Africa, 4 April 2001.
(3) Russel A.
(4) Sinoussi F et al. Purification and partial differentiation of the particles of murine sarcoma virus (MMSV) according to their sedimentation rates in sucrose density gradients. Spectra, #4, 1973, pp 239-243.
(5) Bess JW et al. Microvesicles are a source of contaminating cellular proteins found in purified HIV-1 preparations. Virology 1997; 203: 134-144.
(6) Gluschankof P et al. Cell membrane vesicles are a major contaminant of gradient-enriched human immunodeficiency virus type-1 preparations. Virology 1997; 230: 125-133.
(7) Barré-Sinoussi F. et al. Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Science 1983; 220: 868-871.
(8 ) Temin HM, Mizutani S. RNA-dependent DNA polymerase in virions of Rous sarcoma virus. Nature 1970; 226: 1211-1213.
(9) Baltimore D. RNA-dependent DNA polymerase. Nature 1970; 226: 1209-1211.
(10) Ross J et al. Separation of murine cellular and murine leukemia virus DNA polymerases. Nature New Biology 1971; 231: 163-167.
(11) Beljanski M. Synthèse in vitro de l’ADN sur une matrice d’ARN par une transcriptase d’Esscherichia coli. Comptes rendus de l’Académie des sciences 1972; 274: 2801-2804.
(12) Varmus H. Reverse transcription. Scientific American 1987; 257: 48-54.
(13) Franchi F. In search of HIV; frah08.htm
(14) Strandstrom HV et al. Studies with canine sera that contain antibodies which recognize human immunodeficiency virus structural proteins. Cancer Research 1990; 50: 5628s-5630s.
(15) Papadopulos-Eleopulos E et al. Is a positive Western blot proof of HIV infection? Bio/Technology 1993; 11: 696-707.
(16) Urnovitz HB et al. RNAs in the sera of Persian Gulf War veterans have segments homologous to chromosome 22Q11.2. Clinical and diagnostic laboratory immunology 1999; 6/3: 330-335. See also
(17) Löwer R et al. The viruses in all of us : characteristics and biological significance of human endogenous retrovirus sequences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 1996; 93: 5177-5184.
(18 ) Mullis K. “ Dancing naked in the Mine Field”. Pantheon, 1998.
(19) Gelderblom HR. HIV sequence data base : fine structure of HIV and SIV.
(20) Tahi D. Did Montagnier discover HIV ? “I repeat, we did not purify!”. Continuum 1997; 5: 30-34.
(21) Dourmashkin RR et al. The presence of budding virus-like particles in human lymphoid cells used for HIV cultivation. VIIth International Conference on AIDS. Firenze 1992: 122.
(22) Panem S. C-type virus expression in the placenta. Current Topics in Pathology 1979; 66: 175-189.
(23) Shenton J. “Positively False”. I.B. Tauris & Co, 1998.
(24) Hodgkinson N. “The Failure of Contemporary Science – How a Virus that Never Was Deceived the World”. Fourth Estate, 1996.
(25) Russeil R. “Enquête sur le Sida – Les Vérités Muselées”. Editions Vivez Soleil (Chêne-Bourg/Genève), 1996.
(26) Johnson C. Whose antibodies are they anyway ? Continuum Sept/Oct. 1996.
(27) Weiss R, Wain-Hobson S. The Durban declaration. Nature 2000; 406: 15-16.
(28 ) Stewart GT et al. Not all accepted the Durban Declaration. Nature 2000; 407: 286.
(29) Duesberg P, Köhnlein C, Rasnick D. The chemical bases of the various AIDS epidemics: recreational drugs, anti-viral chemotherapy and malnutrition. Journal of Bioscience 2003, 28 #4: 383-412. See French translation at
(30) Papadopulos-Eleopulos E. A brief history of retroviruses. Continuum 1997; 5: 25-29.
(31) Lanka S. HIV, reality or artefact? Continuum 1995; 3 #1: 4-9.
(32) Rasnick D. The AIDS Blunder. Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg, South Africa), 24 January 2001.
(33) Duesberg P. “Inventing the AIDS Virus”. Regnery, 1996.

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